Erica L. Green at NYT reports on a new protocol at Education's Office for Civil Rights that provides for dismissal of civil rights complaints.
Department officials said the new policy targeted advocates who flooded the office with thousands of complaints for similar violations, jamming its investigation pipeline with cases that could be resolved without exhausting staff and resources. But civil rights advocates worry that the office’s rejection of legitimate claims is the most obvious example to date of its diminishing role in enforcing civil rights laws in the nation’s schools.One of the "frequent lilers" is Marcie Lipsitt.
Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said the new provision was part of the office’s revision of its manual that lays out procedures for processing civil rights cases.
In the last two years, Ms. Lipsitt, a disability rights advocate in Michigan, has filed more than 2,400 complaints with the office against schools, departments of education, colleges and universities, libraries and other educational institutions across the country that have websites that people who are deaf or blind or who struggle with fine motor skills cannot navigate.
“No one even knew about this issue until I started filing,” Ms. Lipsitt said. “I didn’t want to get anybody in trouble. I just wanted to raise awareness.”
She has secured more than 1,000 agreements with institutions that committed to bringing their websites into compliance with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and requires that electronic and information technologies be accessible to them.
In recent weeks, Ms. Lipsitt said, she has received notice that more than 500 cases, including active and open investigations, were dismissed. Each letter cited the new provision as the reason. The department will instead work with colleges on complying with web accessibility laws.Mark Keierleber at The 74:
Since OCR updated its rules on March 5, more than 550 pending civil rights investigations that stemmed from Lipsitt’s complaints have been dismissed, she said, and about 100 new complaints have been dismissed.
Under the new rules, the Education Department dismissed a civil rights investigation against the Western Michigan Aviation Academy, a charter high school located at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport near Grand Rapids. That school was founded in 2010 by Dick DeVos, the husband of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Hill, the department spokeswoman, did not respond to questions about the episode.