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From Discrimination to Sexual Violence, a Flood of Complaints From Classrooms, Campuses

The number of civil rights complaints stemming from colleges, universities and K-12 schools has ballooned, with a majority related to the alleged mistreatment of students with disabilities.

A new report from the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, titled “Delivering Justice,” says the office in fiscal 2015 processed a record 10,392 complaints, opened more than 3,000 investigations and reached more than 1,000 resolutions that resulted in remedies or changes to policies.

The number of complaints in a wide variety of areas increased, with rises seen in categories such as restraint or seclusion of students with disabilities; accessibility of curriculum through technology for students with disabilities; harassment based on race, color or national origin; appropriate support for students learning English; and sexual violence.

“We applaud the Office for Civil Rights for initiating a critical dialogue about the urgency of addressing sexual harassment and violence,” said Fatima Goss Graves, a senior vice president at the National Women’s Law Center.By providing clear guidance, highlighting the importance of meaningful enforcement, and calling for unprecedented transparency, their work is motivating schools to live up to their obligation to proactively address the harassment and violence their students face.”

Regarding harassment on the basis of sex, including gender identity, the office received 536 complaints of such bullying and resolved 375 of them.

Nathan Smith, director of public policy for advocacy organization the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, said the Office for Civil Rights report underscored the “monumental progress … in anti-discrimination protections for transgender and gender nonconforming students” in the last several years.

According to the most recent edition of GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students who experienced discrimination at school were more than three times as likely to have missed school in the past month as those who had not, had lower GPAs than their peers, and had lower self-esteem and higher levels of depression.

The civil rights report noted that the Education Department has worked with the Justice Department to address cases about transgender students’ access to restrooms or locker rooms – particularly notable in relation to recently passed laws in North Carolina and Mississippi, under which the bathrooms such students are able to use can be restricted.

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