Striving for systemic equity within your school through both policies and practices may not only be something you promote to have the best learning environment possible for each of your students but may also keep you away from the ire of the federal government. A recent appointment and initiative should put education leaders on notice of the heightened scrutiny for having consistent and equitable practices.
Spotlight in Indiana: In August of 2020, Governor Holcomb published a memo titled “True Equality and Equity leads to Opportunity for All.” Governor Holcomb shared, “I called my entire cabinet together and shared my commitment to acknowledge past shortcomings and do something about it no matter how hard, raw or uncomfortable it might be.” His first action following his commitment was to create Indiana’s first-ever Chief Equity, Inclusion and Opportunity Officer. He further stressed that, “the surest path to equal opportunity in life is with a high-quality education.”
In response to Governor Holcomb’s agenda, the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) requested assistance to situate their goals within Indiana’s larger goal of supporting systemic change. In this March 25, 2021, report, the IDOE stated, “Equity in education means that schools are putting systems in place to ensure that every child has an equal chance for success. That requires educators to understand the unique challenges and barriers faced by individual students or student populations, then ensure that additional supports are provided to help them overcome said barriers.”
Spotlight on Federal Level: Under the Biden Administration, it is likely that there will be increased accountability on schools to ensure that their policies and practices do not unlawfully discriminate. The Biden Administration has been aggressively responding to issues of equity. In June 2021, President Biden issued an executive order that, among other things, defined equity as “consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals.” Additionally, the confirmation of Catherine Lhamon to lead the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Right (OCR) indicates that OCR investigations into claims of discrimination will likely increase.
Civil Rights Data Collection: The OCR has a biennial survey referred to as the “CRDC” which is short for the Civil Rights Data Collection. This survey gathers and publishes key information about student access to educational opportunities and school climate from nearly every public school (pre-K through 12th grade) in all 50 states. When a complaint is filed against a recipient of federal funds, OCR considers the data collected from these reports in determining whether to open a case. And if the OCR opens a case, it is anticipated they will bring back the “class-wide” investigation approach previously discussed if the data suggests concerning disproportionality among classes of students.
What is the legal lesson from this brief? Educators should review policies and past practices for those areas identified on the CRDC. Additionally, if you have goals that promote systemic equity for your school, you should prioritize taking action on those goals. An investigation by OCR may require you to change your school’s policies and practices and may also place you under continued monitoring. Taking proactive steps to avoid investigations and monitoring will likely save you a lot of time and stress from having to engage with the federal government on these topics.
This blog post was originally published in KGR’s monthly article for the Indiana Association of School Principals’ client newsletter. Navigating state and federal regulations can be challenging. For more information, contact the KGR Education Law and Public Policy team.