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Education Department Reverses Course On Civil and Disability Rights Investigation Rules
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Education Department Reverses Course On Civil and Disability Rights Investigation Rules

On Tuesday, November 20, 2018, the Education Department announced that it has reversed course on controversial changes to its handling of civil and disability rights complaints, including a rule from earlier this year that allowed the agency to dismiss cases it deemed an “unreasonable burden” on resources.

The changes removed the agency's March revisions that allowed the division to dismiss allegations it deemed a “continuation of a pattern of complaints” that placed an “unreasonable burden” on resources. The March revisions also eliminated the opportunity to appeal rulings in which investigators found insufficient evidence to determine whether a violation occurred.

The March revisions also prompted a federal lawsuit by the NAACP and other civil rights organizations, which argued the changes were “arbitrary and capricious” and lacked a legal basis to exclude repeat filers without considering the validity of their complaints

Those changes prompted an outcry from disability rights advocates, including Michigan-based advocate Marcie Lipsitt who, over the last several years, filed more than 2,000 civil rights complaints in a crusade to make school and university websites accessible for people with disabilities. About 1,000 of those resulted in resolution agreements, in which institutions committed to making their websites more accessible. Citing the March revisions, the Education Department closed more than 550 pending investigations that stemmed from Lipsitt’s complaints and another 100 complaints that hadn’t yet been accepted.

“I will continue to file until America recognizes the need to create accessible websites for individuals with disabilities," she said. “I will continue to do this until children and adults with disabilities are no longer treated like third-class citizens.”

In a court filing Monday, November 19, 2018, the Education Department noted it dismissed 682 civil and disability rights complaints filed by five people — including Lipsitt — as a result of the March revisions. The March revisions have been reversed by the Education Department.

While the reversal announced Tuesday restore the appeals process and eliminates the rule against repeat filers, the Education Department retained rules that say officials should investigate schools for systemic issues, like racial disparities in school discipline, only where it is appropriate to do so in light of the allegations.

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