OCR handled a record number of complaints in FY 2023

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) dealt with the highest number of complaints in its history in fiscal year (FY) 2023 at 19,201 — a 2 percent increase from the prior year, according to the its annual report. For comparison, just 8,934 complaints were lodged in FY 2021.

Tasked with ensuring equal access to education, protecting students’ rights and enforcing civil rights laws and regulations, the agency was able to resolve 16,448 of the complaints — the third best complaint resolution rate in OCR’s history.

In FY 2023, 42 percent of complaints received dealt with alleged sex-based discrimination. For the other complaints, 35 percent were based on disability, 18 percent dealt with race and national origin and 3 percent were related to age. However, the data is skewed due to one individual filing 5,590 complaints of sex discrimination allegations.

“This high volume altered the ratio of complaint filings for this fiscal year,” the report explains.

Still, complaints of sex discrimination were down compared to 50 percent in FY 2022. Complaints of disability-based discrimination rose 5 percent year-to-year.

Primary issues

Of the complaints based on race, color or national origin, the largest number of allegations were on the topics of different treatment, denial of benefits, racial harassment, retaliation and discipline.

Sexual/gender-based harassment and/or sexual violence, athletics, different treatment, denial of benefits and retaliation were among the most common reasons identified for allegations of sex-based discrimination.

Among disability-based complaints, free appropriate education, different treatment, exclusion, denial of benefits, retaliation, academic adjustments and disability harassment were the most common allegations lodged.

“The continued need for reminders and enforcement of these core civil rights requirements is disheartening. Yet, school communities’ commitments to right what had been wrong and to support their students’ full and fair access to education inspire me, protect students and fulfill our nation’s highest aspirations for whom we will be,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights.

Other activities the agency took part in that are detailed in the report include processing more than 1,270 Freedom of Information Act requests; publishing new policy guidance and resources on statues such as Title VI, Title VI, Title IX and Section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act; and providing technical assistance to schools on longtime and emerging civil rights issues.