In the days after the presidential election, news outlets and thousands of educators reported increases in harassment, bullying, and intimidation of students based on race, ethnicity, religion, and gender identity. While schools and colleges are on the frontline in confronting these incidents, one mechanism that for more than 35 years has served to curtail such actions is the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within the U.S. Department of Education.
The federal agency’s mission is “to ensure equal access to education,” and it’s charged with enforcing laws that prohibit discrimination against marginalized populations—including students of color, religious and gender minorities, and students with disabilities. In recent years OCR has issued guidance to states and local school districts on their legal obligation to meet the educational needs of transgender students, students with ADHD, and youth in juvenile justice facilities; the civil-rights unit also tracks how well public schools and districts nationwide measure up on equity in learning opportunities.
As one president wraps up his term and another takes the reigns, some have speculated on what a Donald Trump administration and Education Secretary-nominee Betsy DeVos foretell for the civil-rights branch given indications that they plan to downsize the department. With many unknowns still in play, The Atlantic invited voices in education representing divergent viewpoints to offer their outlook and prognosis on the Education Department’s civil-rights arm. The responses, via email, have been edited for clarity and length.