HOW TO FILE A COMPLAINT WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION OFFICE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

HOW TO FILE A COMPLAINT WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION OFFICE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

Anyone wishing to file a formal complaint under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act for disability discrimination by a public school or any other entity that receives money from the United States Department of Education can contact the regional office for the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR). For Texas, the address is:

U.S. Office for Civil Rights
1999 Bryan Street, Suite 1620
Dallas, Texas 75201-6810
Phone: (214) 661-9600
Fax: (214) 661-9587

Website: http://www.ed.gov/OCR

Anyone who believes an educational institution has discriminated against someone on the basis of a disability can file an OCR complaint. It is illegal to retaliate against someone for filing, or assisting with, an OCR complaint.

WHEN IS AN OCR COMPLAINT APPROPRIATE?

Some examples of unlawful discrimination against students with disabilities include, but are not limited to:

* A school district failing to provide a student with the accommodations listed on his or her ?504? plan;

*A school district excluding students with disabilities from extra-curricular activities;

* A school district operating buildings or facilities, such as sports facilities, not physically accessible;

* A school district unnecessarily segregating students with disabilities from other students; and/or

* A school district providing students with disabilities a shorter school day than other students their chronological age.

Complaints should be submitted in writing with the following information:

Complainant?s name and address, with a daytime telephone number (if possible).

* The name and address of the organization (school board, public school, university, vocational school, governing board, or other institution) you believe is discriminating.

* A general description of the person(s) or class of persons injured by the alleged discriminatory act(s). Names of the injured party or parties are not required.

* A description of the alleged discriminatory act(s) in sufficient detail to enable OCR to understand what occurred, when it occurred, and the basis for the alleged discrimination. (That is, what did the school do or not do which resulted in the student with a disability not having the opportunity to participate in the activities of the school on the same basis as students without disabilities.)

* The complainant?s original signature. Even if you file online, you still must provide an original signature by mail. There is a consent form to use for that purpose on the bottom of the online form.

For information about the OCR complaint process, including frequently asked questions and their answers and a form you can use to file online, go to:

http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaintintro.html

If you still need assistance in writing your complaint, you can call the OCR office and ask for a staff person to assist you.

A complaint must be filed within 180 calendar days of the date of the alleged discrimination. OCR can extend the time for filing a complaint for good cause. This means that you should file yourcomplaint as soon as possible to be sure that OCR will accept it for investigation.

Attached is a sample Section 504 complaint. You do not have to send the complaint letter by certified, return receipt requested mail; however, it is a good idea to do so because you will have a record of the date they receive the letter.

After the first part of the letter, there is a list of all of the sections of the federal regulations that are most likely to be referenced in a Section 504 complaint against a public school. Use only the sections that apply to your specific situation.

At the end of the letter is a place for a paragraph which lists what you want OCR to do to correct the discriminatory situation?that is, what you want the school to do to fix the problem. You should list the actions you want the school to take for your student, but if you think the school district should make some systemic changes for other students, you should mention these kinds of changes here.

Do not forget your original signature. OCR will NOT accept a faxed complaint that is not followed up with a complaint that has an original signature - that is, signed in ink.

WHAT HAPPENS ONCE I?VE FILED MY COMPLAINT?

Within 7 days, OCR will let you know they have received your complaint. Within 30 days, they will let you know whether your complaint has been accepted for investigation. If OCR does not plan to investigate your complaint, you will receive a ?closure letter? explaining the reasons your complaint was not accepted for investigation. If you disagree with that decision, or do not understand the reasons behind it, call and talk to the OCR staff member who signed the closure letter. If you still disagree, the OCR staff person can explain to you how to appeal the decision not to investigate.

If your complaint is accepted for investigation, OCR will send you a consent form that will allow them to obtain information, such as student records, relevant to the complaint. The form must be signed and returned to their office within 30 calendar days. You cannot be forced to give your consent for OCR to obtain certain personal information. However, if OCR believes your refusal to give consent for certain information prevents them from conducting a thorough investigation, they may close your case at that point.

HOW DOES OCR RESOLVE COMPLAINTS?

A. Early Complaint Resolution

This process provides the parties involved the opportunity to immediately resolve the allegations prompting the complaint. If you and the school are both willing to use this approach, OCR will work with the parties to develop a written resolution to the complaint.

OCR does not sign, approve, or endorse the agreement reached between the parties; however,

OCR will assist both parties in understanding applicable legal standards and possible remedies. OCR does not monitor Early Complaint Resolution agreements. However, you may file another complaint against the school with OCR if you do not believe that the implementation of the agreement has resolved the alleged discriminatory situation.

B. Investigation Determinations

At the conclusion of its investigation, OCR will determine either that:

1. There was not sufficient evidence to support the allegations and close the complaint; or

2. There was sufficient evidence to support the allegations and OCR will negotiate a corrective action agreement.

C. Agreements

If the institution (i.e., the school district) agrees to settle the complaint, it will sign a written agreement that describes the actions it will take. OCR will monitor the implementation of the agreement.

D. Letters of Findings and Enforcement.

If OCR determines that the school has violated one of the civil rights laws and the school is unwilling to correct the violation(s), OCR will issue a letter of findings describing the factual findings and the legal basis for the violation(s). OCR will then attempt, once more, to negotiate a corrective action agreement with the school. If OCR is still unable to obtain voluntary compliance, OCR can move to enforcement by either initiating administrative enforcement proceedings or by referring the case to the United States Department of Justice. OCR can also move to defer any new or additional federal financial assistance to the school and can begin administrative enforcement proceedings to terminate existing federal assistance. This applies to all sources of federal funding to a school - not just disability-related or special education funding.

Advocacy, Incorporated's goal is to make each handout understandable by and useful to the general public. If you have suggestions on how this handout can be improved, please contact Advocacy, Inc. at the address and telephone number shown on Advocacy's home page or e-mail Advocacy, Inc. at infoai@advocacyinc.org. Thank you for your assistance. This handout is available in Braille and/or on audio tape upon request. Advocacy, Inc. strives to update its materials on an annual basis, and this handout is based upon the law at the time it was written. The law changes frequently and is subject to various interpretations by different courts. Future changes in the law may make some information in this handout inaccurate. The handout is not intended to and does not replace an attorney's advice or assistance based on your particular situation.

SAMPLE SECTION 504 COMPLAINT LETTER

(DATE)

U. S. Office for Civil Rights BY CERTIFIED MAIL
1999 Bryan Street, Suite 1620 RETURN RECEIPT REQUESTED
Dallas, Texas 75201

RE: (NAME OF STUDENT); (NAME OF DISTRICT)

To Whom It May Concern:

This is a letter of complaint against the (NAME OF DISTRICT) Independent School District on behalf of (NAME OF STUDENT), a student with disabilities in (NAME) ISD. I am alleging that (NAME) ISD has violated the following requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973:

Use Section 104.21. - Discrimination prohibited when you believe that the school?s buildings or other facilities (such as athletic facilities or playgrounds) are not accessible.

Use Section 104.32 - Location and notification (a) [identify & locate] and (b) [notify] when you believe that the school district does not try to identify and locate every qualified student with a disability residing in its district (including private and home-schooled students) and/or does not provide proper annual notice to parents of its responsibilities under Section 504.

Use Section 104.33 - Free appropriate public education. (a) General and (b) Appropriate education when you believe that the school is not providing a student with disabilities the accommodations, modifications, aids and/or services he or she needs to be educated appropriately in the regular classroom.

Use Section 104.34 - Educational setting (a) Academic setting when you believe that the school district operates programs for students with disabilities that are generally too restrictive. For example, this could include separate campuses or programs where students have no opportunities to be educated in any way with students who do not have disabilities.

Use Section 104.34 - Educational setting (b) Nonacademic settings when you believe that the school, in general, segregates students with disabilities from students without disabilities for nonacademic activities. This could include, for example, requiring that all students with disabilities eat lunch at the same time and in the same part of the school cafeteria (or not in the cafeteria at all).

Use Section 104.34 - Educational setting (c) Comparable facilities when you believe that the school places classes for students with disabilities in locations that are not comparable to classrooms for students who do not have disabilities. This could include, for example, a school that places all of its special education classes in portable buildings.

Use Section 104.35 - Evaluation and placement (a) Pre-placement evaluation when you believe that the school has not used or tried to obtain evaluation information (such as a doctor?s letter) in deciding what kinds of modifications or accommodations a student with disabilities will receive at school.

Use Section 104.36 - Procedural safeguards when you believe that a school district has no system in place for complying with Section 504. This is more of a systemic complaint that would require district-wide corrective action.

Use Section 104.37 - Nonacademic services (a) General (1) [provision of services] and (2) [types of services] when you believe that, for example, a school fails to provide accessible transportation for students with mobility impairments for field trips.

Use Section 104.37 - Nonacademic services (b) Counseling services when you believe, for example, that the school counselors always counsel students with disabilities toward more restrictive and less challenging academic or vocational opportunities.

Use Section 104.37 - Nonacademic services (c) Physical education and athletics

(1) when you believe that the school does not provide the aids and supports that students with disabilities need to participate in physical education and/or athletic activities. This could include, for example, a basketball team member with a hearing impairment who uses American Sign Language to communicate and needs an interpreter for practices and for games.

The district has violated this (or these) requirement(s) by: This is where you state what the district did or failed to do and when this occurred.

If your investigation sustains my allegations, I ask that the following corrective actions be included in the district?s plan of remedies:

This is where you list the things you want the school to do to fix the problem.

It should include specific activities for the student on whose behalf the complaint was filed. This could include, for example, modifications and services (such as administering medication or providing lift-equipped buses for field trips) for a student. It can also include district wide activities, such as changing policies for placing classes in portable buildings.

Thank you for your attention to this complaint. Please contact me at (DAYTIME

PHONE NUMBER) if you have any questions and to let me know how the investigation is proceeding.

Sincerely,

(COMPLAINANT?S ORIGINAL SIGNATURE)
(NAME OF COMPLAINANT)
(ADDRESS OF COMPLAINANT)

###

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