Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Strange Case of USDE OCR and Seattle Public Schools.

The United State Dept of Education recently released a new statement:


“From day one, our approach has been clear and unwavering: vigorously enforce civil rights laws, treat students as individuals, and resolve cases both efficiently and effectively,” said Secretary DeVos. “The backlog of cases we inherited should have troubled everyone, as we know justice delayed is justice denied. While many have tried to distort the nature of our approach, the numbers don’t lie. Our approach has been more effective at supporting students and delivering meaningful results.”

 See full statement

How is this statement relevant to Seattle Public schools?

In 2015 an OCR complaint was filed against the Seattle Public Schools and the OCR reviewed the complaint. If the investigation finds the complaint credible they open an investigation. It usually takes OCR 180 days to reach a decision, per their guidelines.

In March of 2015 the OCR accepted the case based on the evidence provided by the parents who's child's civil rights were alleged to have been violated by the staff of a district's high school.
OCR began gathering evidence and conducting interviews with school staff and administrators.

In May of 2015 the OCR case was put an hold while a separate but related Washington State OSPI complaint was being investigated and adjudicated. Then in June of 2015 the OCR restarted the investigation and determined that OSPI's conclusions which resulted in awarded compensation did not address the civil rights violation and therefore the civil rights violation complaint was eligible to be re-opened.

As weeks went by the parents would regularly contact the OCR administrator assigned to the case for updates and asked why it was taking so long. "These things can take longer then 180 days sometimes" the administrator would respond.

In November 2015 the parents once again contacted OCR and were informed that the Deputy Chief Attorney/Senior Attorney, U.S. Dept. of Education, Office for Civil Rights and investigator working on their complaint against the Seattle School District had resigned her position and they were working to reassign their case. They would update the parents when a new investigator was assigned.

In December 2015 it was revealed to the parents that the original attorney working on their OCR case was now working for the Seattle Public Schools as the Student Civil Rights Compliance Officer, but not to worry the district will not be able to use her knowledge of your case to help the school district avoid an unfavorable decision. It would be a conflict of interest.

The same attorney working the parent's complaint had worked another OCR case against the Seattle School District involving an incident on a high school field trip. That case was settled for a $700,000 payment to the family and an agreement that the district would create the position of Student Civil Rights Compliance Officer. In an apparent conflict of interest, the same investigating attorney from OCR was hired as the new Seattle Public Schools Student Civil Rights Compliance Officer. 

Weeks turned to months then year's and the student moved on to another school outside of the district and has since graduated and started college. The parents were recently informed in March of 2019 that OCR has assigned the case to a new investigator. As of this posting the 2015 USDE OCR case against the Seattle Public Schools remains unresolved and the new Seattle Public Schools Student Civil Rights Compliance Officer resigned her position after only 13 months. 


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