NAICU Washington Update

Sec. Duncan Addresses Civil Rights Challenges

March 09, 2010

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced a new emphasis on civil rights enforcement by his department during a March 8 speech in Selma, Alabama. "We are going to reinvigorate civil rights enforcement," he said.

The assistant secretary for civil rights, Russlyn Ali, expanded on the Secretary's remarks in a conference call with reporters prior to the speech. The Department plans to begin 38 compliance reviews before the end of the current fiscal year on October 1. Ali said "the big difference is not in the number of the reviews we intend to carry out, but in their complexity and depth." The planned reviews will involve 32 public school districts and six postsecondary institutions.

None of the districts or institutions targeted for review has been publicly identified so far, and it is likely that their names will be revealed one or two at a time over the next few months. Ali did say that a major investigation of "one of the nation's largest urban districts" would begin this week.

In addition to the 38 compliance reviews, the Department plans a series of guidance letters to all of the nation's school districts and postsecondary institutions, covering 17 separate areas of civil rights concern. In addition to the traditional civil rights focus on racial and gender discrimination and protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities, these letters are expected to cover a wider range of topics, including access to science and math courses and problems with food allergies in schools.

The numbers of planned compliance reviews suggest that the initial focus is likely to be on elementary and secondary education. Official statements so far have offered few clues about the kinds of issues that are likely to come up in the six postsecondary reviews. Ali did tell reporters that these would probably include athletics, sexual violence, and treatment of people with disabilities.

NAICU will continue to monitor these and related developments.

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