Civil rights groups sue Education Dept over provision on dismissing civil rights complaints

Civil rights groups sue Education Dept over provision on dismissing civil rights complaints
© Greg Nash

Civil rights groups sued the Education Department (DOE) on Thursday over a new manual allowing officials to start dismissing hundreds of civil rights complaints.

The National Federation of the Blind, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates and the NAACP filed the lawsuit against the department, Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosDon’t worry (too much) about Kavanaugh changing the Supreme Court Overnight Defense: Fallout from tense NATO summit | Senators push to block ZTE deal in defense bill | Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to run Afghan war Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to take over Afghan war MORE and Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson.

They argue in the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Maryland, that DeVos violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act and Jackson acting unlawfully by carrying out the new provisions.

The groups requested that a judge block the Education Department from enforcing the provisions.

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The New York Times first reported on the lawsuit. An Education Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit to the Times, citing pending litigation.

The Times reported in April that officials dismissed hundreds of civil rights complaints considered unnecessary or burdensome after revisions were made to the department’s manual for processing the complaints.

The manual’s new provisions allow the department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to toss out complaints that show "a pattern of complaints previously filed with O.C.R. by an individual or a group against multiple recipients," or place "an unreasonable burden on O.C.R.’s resources."

The groups allege in the lawsuit that the policy change was “arbitrary and capricious” after the public was not given a chance to weigh in on the modification.

The complaint also claims that dismissing civil rights complaints that have been filed by past filers “directly contradicts the DOE regulations requiring that all complaints be investigated.”

The lawsuit notes that civil rights complaints are often repeatedly filed by individuals who are victims of discrimination, or groups that represent those individuals.

The manual also does not include a definition of a “pattern” of complaints, and no longer allows complainants to file appeals.

“The ban on complaints from persons or entities who have made complaints in the past or complaints against multiple recipients of federal funds directly contradicts the DOE regulations requiring that all complaints be investigated,” the lawsuit states. “Neither regulations nor statutes empower DOE’s OCR to limit the complaints that will be investigated in this fashion.”