Mandatory Civil Rights Data Collection request for comments

The Department of Education Office of Civil Rights has asked for public comment on the mandatory civil rights data collection. The Department of Education is especially interested in public comment addressing the following issues: (1) Is this collection necessary to the proper functions of the Department; (2) will this information be processed and used in a timely manner; (3) is the estimate of burden accurate; (4) how might the Department enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected; and (5) how might the Department minimize the burden of this collection on the respondents, including through the use of information technology. Please note that written comments received in response to this notice will be considered public records.

Today at midnight is the deadline to post a comment on the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). Below are comments submitted by the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint.


The Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint (AASR) is grateful for the opportunity to respond to the request for information regarding mandatory civil rights data collection (FR DOC #2021-25246). AASR is a community of over 17,000 parents, self-advocates, teachers, school administrators, paraprofessionals, attorneys, related service providers, and others working together to influence change in the way we support children who may exhibit behaviors of concern. The mission of AASR is to educate the public and to connect people who are dedicated to changing minds, laws, policies, and practices so that restraint, seclusion, suspension, expulsion, corporal punishment, and other abusive practices are eliminated from schools across the nation and beyond. Our vision is safer schools for students, teachers, and staff. 

We know that the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is charged with enforcement and monitoring to ensure that recipients of the Department of Education’s Federal financial assistance do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, and disability. We also know that despite decades of policy guidance, technical assistance, compliance reviews, and enforcement action that there are significant issues with the disproportionality of discipline across the nation.  We also know that are are significant issues with data reporting, as highlighted by the Government Accountability Office.  We are eager to share our recommendations.   

The Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint is highly concerned about the issue of disproportionate discipline. Through research, we know that disabled, Black, and brown children are disproportionately subjected to restraint, seclusion, suspension, expulsion, and corporal punishment. We know that boys and very young children are more often targeted for exclusionary and aversive forms of punishment. We know children with a trauma history are more likely to suffer from harsh and inappropriate forms of discipline. The impact of this pattern is a clear violation of civil rights for many children. The impact of this pattern is that young, disabled, Black, and brown children are being pushed down the school-to-prison pipeline. Despite widespread awareness and efforts that have been made to reverse the school-to-prison pipeline, harsh disciplinary practices continue, as do other factors that contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. Data collection is of critical importance in ensuring that the civil rights of students are not being systematically violated. 

Recommendations 

While OCR has been collecting data related to restraint and seclusion since 2009 there are many issues with the data collection effort. In fact, in 2019 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviewed the OCR restraint and seclusion data reporting and concluded that they had serious concerns about the quality of the data. “Our findings raise serious concerns about underreporting and misreporting of the use of seclusion and restraint,” says Jackie Nowicki, a director at the GAO and author of the report. “It is therefore not possible to know the extent of the use of seclusion and restraint nationwide.” Additionally, data review and analysis often take years to complete and the data does not appear to be used proactively to initiate investigation or compliance reviews.

We ask that OCR proactively address issues related to underreporting and misreporting. We believe that federal funding should be withheld from school districts that have been found to chronically underreport or misreport data.

We ask that OCR review, quality-assure, and make data available to legislators and the general public within 6 months of completed data collection. To have value in decision making, data must be accurate, quality-assured, and timely. Parents, school boards, lawmakers and OCR can not respond to protect the civil rights of children when there is a lag of 3 to 4 years from data collection to data availability. In the era of big data, it is inexcusable to wait years for data only to find out that the data  lacks integrity. 

We ask that OCR proactively analyze data related to restraint, seclusion, suspension, expulsion, and corporal punishment and that local educational agencies with the highest use (top 25%) should be investigated. If we want to reduce the use of restraint, seclusion, suspension, expulsion, and corporal punishment systemic issues must be addressed.  It is not enough to simply collect data, the Office of Civil Rights needs to proactively review and respond to data.  

We ask that OCR investigate local educational agencies that report zero instances of restraint and/or seclusion. OCR should contact LEAs and verify results within 60 days of data collection. LEAs that report zero instances incorrectly in consecutive reporting cycles should be subjected to funding penalties.  

We ask that OCR collect restraint and seclusion data for non-public or private placements in which public school students are placed through the IEP process. Students in more restrictive settings are more often restrained and secluded. Students in more restrictive settings are more often disabled, Black and brown. While these settings represent a small percentage of total enrollment in schools across the nation, they represent a majority of restraint and seclusion instances. A parent considering a non-public placement, through the IEP process, should be able to lookup data for restraint and seclusion as part of the CRDC data.

Conclusion

We appreciate the vision and mission of the United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. We appreciate the many dedicated civil servants who work tirelessly to protect children in schools across the nation. It is difficult work, but very important work. We realize that there are limitations of what OCR can do in its role to prevent discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, and disability. However, more needs to be done. Black, brown and disabled children are having their civil and human rights violated in schools across the nation. When we examine the data it shows that there is a crisis in American schools. AASR hopes that we can collaborate to improve the outcomes for our nation’s children.   

We thank you for considering our public comment.  The Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint invites you to reach out with any questions or opportunities to collaborate towards solutions.

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