A ProPublica study released on Thursday found that more than 1,200 civil rights investigations were scuttled by the U.S. Department of Education under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Along with the report, the status of resolved and pending civil right cases from 2015 to 2018 for different school districts and colleges has been released to the public. According to ProPublica, 46 cases were filed against USC, and were subsequently resolved in the last three years.
Although several filed complaints dealt with discriminatory discipline and sexual violence in school districts and universities across the United States, they were closed without the proper investigations and consequences due to insufficient evidence.
“This is indicative of how they are now evaluating and handling complaints,” senior attorney with the Advancement Project Kaitlin Banner said to ProPublica.
ProPublica also discovered that the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has become more lenient under DeVos’ leadership. The study compared the first 15 months of resolved cases under the Trump administration to the last 15 months of Obama’s presidency.
The results concluded that under Obama, 51 percent of the cases took more than 180 days to investigate while the rate of the findings of civil rights violations decreased to 35 percent under Trump.
Specific cases have reflected this pattern of decrease in finding proper closure. According to the study, complaints regarding the discrimination against non-native English speakers were at 70 percent under Obama while 52 percent were upheld by Trump. In addition, complaints regarding sexual harassment and violence dropped from 41 percent to 31 percent, while racial harassment complaints decreased from 31 percent to 21 percent.
“Where the evidence is insufficient for OCR to prove a violation of law, or the facts show that dismissal is appropriate on other grounds, OCR closes the case, which provides much-needed closure for both students and institutions,” spokeswoman for the Department of Education Elizabeth Hill said.
ProPublica also analyzed differences between how each administration dealt with civil rights enforcement. While Obama’s administration prioritized carrying out cases to undergo systematic investigations, Trump’s leadership has emphasized efficiency.
Due to its varied methods of investigation, the Trump administration has resolved an estimated 3,250 cases that each lasted more than six months while only 1,150 were resolved in the last 15 months under Obama’s presidency.
“If all you see when you get a complaint is one kid and one dispute with a school, you will be able to resolve that — and maybe even in the kid’s favor — pretty quickly, but you are focusing on the needles and not the haystacks,” former senior official in the OCR Seth Galanter said. “The way they are approaching it is they are only dealing with the squeaky wheel. They aren’t doing their full job, which means they can move quickly.”
Although the percentage of investigation lengths is lower under DeVos’ leadership, the actual number of cases that were concluded with wrongdoings has significantly increased compared to Obama’s administration.