Among the many spending measures included in the newly-passed omnibus spending bill is a big budget increase for the Department of Education agency that has spearheaded efforts to roll back due process rights on college campuses.
The Office for Civil Rights is a division of the Department of Education responsible for enforcing federal laws such as Title IX, which prohibit discrimination in educational institutions. The $1.1 trillion spending bill passed in the House and Senate Friday hikes the OCR’s budget by a substantial 7 percent.
OCR has substantially expanded its anti-discrimination efforts under President Obama, in a variety of politically divisive ways. Most prominently, the office has become deeply enmeshed in the debate over campus sexual assault.
In a 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter (a form of regulatory guidance that is effectively binding), OCR ordered schools to investigate and punish sexual assaults on campus using a “preponderance of the evidence” standard (where the accused is guilty if there is a better than 50/50 chance they are responsible). This effectively ordered many schools to lower the threshold of guilt for sexual assault cases, as prior to the letter many schools instead relied on the “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which is more rigorous.
It is questionable that OCR’s order is even legal, but because the penalty of violating Title IX is a total loss of federal funding, schools have been highly averse to standing up to OCR. (RELATED: Dem Congressman Suggests Expelling All Students Accused Of Sexual Assault)
More recently, OCR has brought direct pressure on schools by investigating over a hundred institutions for allegedly engaging in discrimination by not doing enough to fight sexual assault. In response, schools such as Harvard University have adopted new rules and procedures concerning sexual assault.
Generally, these new procedures roll back due process rights for accused students, and make it easier for students to be found guilty of harassment or assault and kicked off campus. At Harvard, over two dozen law professors signed an open letter condemning the school’s new sexual assault policies for restricting students’ rights.
OCR has also been at the heart of an Obama administration push to regulate discipline in schools by reducing racial disparities in suspensions and other types of punishment. In a 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter, OCR pressured K-12 schools to seek racial equality in suspension rates, in contrast to current rates where blacks are suspended at significantly higher rates than Hispanics, who are in turn suspended more than whites and Asians.
In response, many districts have been radically overhauling their suspension policies. In Minneapolis, the superintendent even required suspensions of black, Hispanic, and American Indian students to obtain special approval from her, a protection white and Asian students didn’t receive. Such policies are legally questionable, since racial quotas for punishment have been struck down in the past, but they now are being adopted in response to direct pressure from OCR.
The spending bill passed by Republicans in Congress Friday enables the Obama administration to continue its crusade on sexual assault and school discipline with even more resources.
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