Parents, current students, alumni, and others are under the impression that when discrimination happens at a school, they must follow the chain of command with their complaint before they can go to the Office of Civil Rights [OCR] at the U.S. Department of Education. An example of going through the chain of command is the Principal, the Dean of Student Affairs, the Superintendent, the school’s Board of Trustees, the state Department of Education, and then the state Board of Education.

This is not true. You can go ahead and file an OCR complaint without filing any complaint at all with your school or your school district. It is against federal law for anyone at the school to retaliate against you for filing a complaint. The OCR’s time limit is 6 months, although they do waivers for those who file complaints past 6 months — in that case, you would need to explain why you filed past the 6-month limit.

Previous allegations the OCR has investigated on the basis of sex, disability, or race discrimination include (but not limited to) harassment, being disciplined more frequently and/or more harshly than other students who engage in similar conduct, suspensions, expulsions, giving the student lower grades than other students for similar or superior academic work, bullying, assaults, retaliation, or the refusal of the school to accommodate the students. Cases of discrimination during the admissions process are also covered. You can look up past OCR investigations here to get a good idea.

You can submit the OCR Discrimination Complaint Form(s) online, through e-mail, and by mail. All Consent Form(s) and evidence must be sent through mail. There are 12 different OCR Enforcement Offices, and each Enforcement Office is responsible for different states. We have included their contact information at the end of this article.

— HOW TO FILE A COMPLAINT BY MAIL —

If you want to submit everything through mail, here’s how you can do it.

  1. Download the OCR Discrimination Complaint Form(s), fill it out on your computer, print it out, and put your name signature on the form. If you do not want to use the Complaint Form, you can type, print out, and put your name signature on a letter. What do you say in the letter? You should let the OCR know which school, college, or other institution you are complaining about, the person(s) who were discriminated against (if it was you or someone else you are filing on behalf of), and when the discrimination occurred. You also need to let the OCR know on the Complaint Form or the letter how they can contact you by phone, e-mail, and mail.
  2. When you downloaded the Complaint Form, it also included a Consent Form. Fill the Consent Form out, print it out, and put the name signature on the form.
  3. Print out copies of all evidence you have—screenshots of text messages, photos, e-mails, school reports, etc—and organize them the best you can. If you have video or audio files as evidence, make copies of them on a flash drive and protect the flash drive with styrofoam or bubble packaging.
  4. Put the OCR Discrimination Complaint Form or the Letter then the Consent Form(s) on top of the printed evidence, and put it all in a big orange envelope for mailing to the OCR Enforcement Office responsible for the state where your school is.

— HOW TO FILE A COMPLAINT BY E-MAIL —

If you want to file everything through e-mail, the directions are below. **The original Consent Form still must be sent in the mail.**

  1. Download the OCR Discrimination Complaint Form(s), fill it out on your computer, print it out, put your name signature on the form, then scan it back onto the computer. If you do not want to use the Complaint Form, you can type out a letter, print it out, put your name signature and date on the letter, and scan it back on the computer. What do you say in the letter? You should let the OCR know which school, college or other institution you are complaining about, the person(s) who were discriminated against (if it was you or someone else you are filing on behalf of), and when the discrimination occurred. You also need to let the OCR know on the Complaint Form or the letter how they can contact you by phone, e-mail, and mail.
  2. When you downloaded the Complaint Form, it also included a Consent Form. Fill the Consent Form out, print it out, put the name signature on the form, scan it back onto the computer, and attach a copy to the e-mail. You still must send the original Consent Form in the mail to the OCR Enforcement Office.
  3. Attach copies of all evidence you have—screenshots of text messages, photos, e-mails, school reports, video files, audio files, etc.—and organize them the best you can by attachment to the e-mail.
  4. Attach the Consent Form(s) or the Letter to the same e-mail where you put the attached evidence, and e-mail to the OCR Enforcement Office responsible for the state where your school is.

— QUESTIONS & ANSWERS —

Deaf Vee Journal spoke with a Civil Rights Investigator from one of the OCR Enforcement Offices and asked them some questions. For more questions, check out the OCR’s FAQ webpage. (Update, 7/26/2020: The outcomes tend to include mediated resolutions.)

Question #1: Are the parents required to live in the state where their child attended the school for the Deaf in order for the parents to file an OCR complaint?
No. It does not matter where the parents live, as long as their child attended the school.

Question #2: What are examples of OCR waivers for those who file a complaint past 180 days (6 months)?
It depends on the situation, we take waiver requests on a case-by-case basis. Some examples are medical reasons, the parent(s) were in the military at the time, or you did try going through the chain of command at your school, your school district or your state department of education with your complaint and you were not satisfied with the outcome. Schools and their districts usually have a 12-month / 1 year window of time to accept and investigate complaints. Again, it depends.

Question #3: We see on the OCR website that you accept complaints on behalf of an individual or a group. Let’s suppose there is a large group of students who believe they have been discriminated against on the basis of race, sex, or disability. In what cases would it be better to file as individuals and in what cases would it be better to file as a group?
— If one employee repeatedly discriminated against a group with the same specific action, the group can submit one complaint together for that employee.
— If one employee repeatedly discriminated against the same group but with different actions towards different people in that group, then the individuals would need to do separate complaints for the same employee but they could submit their complaints together in one package at the same time. The group would need to do that every time for each different employee.
— If one individual in the group received discrimination from any employee that everyone else in the group did not, it is best for them to also file as an individual against that employee.

Question #4: If the students decide to come together as a group, is it allowed for a person to submit paperwork on their behalf?
Yes. It can be anyone, and it does not have to be someone who is a victim of discrimination at the school or someone who went to the same school. If a person is filing the OCR complaint on behalf of the group of people, the person has to sign the Consent Form and know that it means the person’s name will be revealed.

Question #5: Can someone file an OCR complaint on behalf of one other person?
Yes. If a person is filing the OCR complaint on behalf of another person, the other person should sign the Consent Form. If the other person is under 18, the person’s parent or legal guardian must sign the Consent Form.

Question #6: Can anonymous complaints be submitted?
For individual complaints, names are required. But in a group complaint, not everyone has to submit their names.

— OCR ENFORCEMENT OFFICE CONTACTS —

The contact information we are including below comes directly from this OCR webpage.

NATIONAL: OCR Headquarters
400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20202-1100
Customer Service Hotline #: (800) 421-3481 | Fax: (202) 453-6012
TTY: 800) 877-8339 | Email: [email protected] | Web: http://www.ed.gov/ocr

AREAS SERVED: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, & Vermont
Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education — Boston Office
5 Post Office Square, 8th Floor, Boston, MA 02109-3921
Phone: (617) 289-0111 | Fax: (617) 289-0150 | E-mail: [email protected]

AREAS SERVED: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, & Wisconsin
Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education — Chicago Office
John C. Kluczynski Federal Building, 230 S. Dearborn Street, 37th Floor, Chicago, IL 60604
Phone: (312) 730-1560 | Fax: (312) 730-1576 | E-mail: [email protected]

AREAS SERVED: New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, & Virgin Islands
Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education — New York Office
32 Old Slip, 26th Floor, New York, NY 10005-2500
Phone: (646) 428-3800 | Fax: (646) 428-3843 | E-mail: [email protected]

AREAS SERVED: Michigan & Ohio
Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education — Cleveland Office
1350 Euclid Avenue, Suite 325, Cleveland, OH 44115
Phone: (216) 522-4970 | Fax: (216) 522-2573 | E-mail: [email protected]

AREAS SERVED: Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, & West Virginia
Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education — Philadelphia Office
The Wanamaker Building, 100 Penn Square East, Suite 515, Philadelphia, PA 19107-3323
Phone: (215) 656-8541 | Fax: (215) 656-8605 | E-mail: [email protected]

AREAS SERVED: Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, & South Dakota
Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education — Kansas City Office
One Petticoat Lane, 1010 Walnut Street, Suite 320, Kansas City, MO 64106
Phone: (816) 268-0550 | Fax: (816) 268-0559 | E-mail: [email protected]

AREAS SERVED: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, & Tennessee
Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education — Atlanta Office
61 Forsyth Street S.W., Suite 19T10, Atlanta, GA 30303-8927
Phone: (404) 974-9406 | Fax: (404) 974-9471 | E-mail: [email protected]

AREAS SERVED: Louisiana, Mississippi, & Texas
Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education — Dallas Office
1999 Bryan Street, Suite 1620, Dallas, TX 75201-6810
Phone: (214) 661-9600 | Fax: (214) 661-9587 | E-mail: [email protected]

AREAS SERVED: North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, & Washington, D.C.
Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education — District of Columbia Office
400 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, DC 20202-1475
Phone: (202) 453-6020 | Fax: (202) 453-6021 | E-mail: [email protected]

AREAS SERVED: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, & Wyoming
Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education — Denver Office
Cesar E. Chavez Memorial Building, 1244 Speer Boulevard, Suite 310, Denver, CO 80204-3582
Phone: (303) 844-5695 | Fax: (303) 844-4303 | E-mail: [email protected]

AREAS SERVED: California
Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education — San Francisco Office
50 United Nations Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: (415) 486-5555 | Fax: (415) 486-5570 | E-mail: [email protected]

AREAS SERVED: Alaska, American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, & the Northern Mariana Islands
Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education — Seattle Office
915 Second Avenue, Room 3310, Seattle, WA 98174-1099
Phone: (206) 607-1600 | Fax: (206) 607-1601 | E-mail: [email protected]