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Part 3: Complaining to the Office for Civil Rights

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) handles issues around disability discrimination and access to education. These rights are broader than those provided by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

To involve the OCR, you file a complaint  alleging disability discrimination. You must do this promptly, within 180 days of the discriminatory behavior. If the OCR agrees that you have alleged discrimination correctly, it will begin an investigation. There will probably be an opportunity to mediate with the school district. If the matter is not settled in mediation, typically the OCR will resolve it directly with the school district. You will not have any input into that resolution.

This process is fairly effective in addressing problems in the school district’s policies and systems, as the OCR is likely to make the school district comply with policies and put in place training that may be missing. For the individual, it is often less satisfactory. The investigation process can take over a year, and the OCR is more interested in systemic remedies than in solving individual problems. You don’t have any control over the resolution between the OCR and the school. An OCR complaint is useful to hold the school accountable, and if you have a case that may eventually be filed in court, having a favorable OCR outcome may be a good start.

You can file an OCR complaint by itself or in conjunction with another complaint, like due process.  This will keep the 180-day time limitation from running, and the OCR will defer its investigation.

You can file an OCR complaint by yourself or with an attorney. Because the process drags on for a while, it takes a fair amount of attorney time. But it is still much cheaper than a due process complaint and hearing. The OCR takes the complaint seriously whether or not you have an attorney, so you may succeed by filing it yourself. Because the timeline is so short, if you don’t make the right allegations, you probably will not have another chance to file, so you need to be careful.  

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