The Education Department under President Barack Obama made equality a cornerstone of its education agenda. Education officials followed a clear principle: “Protecting our students’ civil rights is fundamental to ensuring they receive a high-quality education.”
Many are concerned that the incoming administration lacks the same passion for education equity. As the Obama era closes, the department celebrated and assessed its success:
“Much progress has been made in the past eight years, but much work remains to ensure all children enjoy equitable access to excellence in American education,” U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said in a statement.
King announced on Dec. 8 the release of two Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reports that “highlight the ongoing vital necessity of OCR’s work to eliminate discriminatory barriers to educational opportunity so our nation’s students may realize their full potential.”
One of the documents, the fiscal year 2016 annual report, revealed that the number of civil rights complaints reached a record-high of 16,720 during the last fiscal year. That’s an increase of more than 10,000 civil rights complaints compared to fiscal year 2009 when the administration took office.
The other report, titled Achieving Simple Justice, assesses the department’s civil rights activities from 2009 to 2016. OCR reports that it resolved more than 66,000 civil rights cases during the Obama era and initiated 204 investigations, despite staff reductions.
The administration also issued 34 policy guidance documents that set standards for how school districts should manage a range of issues, from sexual assault in school to accommodating transgender students.
King and his predecessor Arne Duncan discussed the reports on Dec. 8 at the department’s headquarters in the District of Columbia.
According to the Washington Post, the event turned into a rally to boost the morale of the department’s staff and civil rights activists, as Donald Trump’s team prepares to take leadership of education policy.
“We’ve got some tough times ahead, but we are up to it,” Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund and an education civil rights icon, told the audience. “You might as well hunker down, do your crying at nights and on the weekends. We are not going backwards.”
The newspaper said Trump surrogates hinted that OCR has too much authority, and the incoming administration could roll back Obama’s guidance documents.