Special Education

Without the Office for Civil Rights, My High School Would Have Continued to Discriminate Against Students Like Me

You may have seen the news. On July 11, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos responded to a letter written by Senator Patty Murray, which questioned the secretary’s dedication to maintaining civil rights in education. Secretary Devos said she was planning on returning the Office for Civil Rights back to a “neutral” organization. She claimed under the Obama administration, the Office for Civil Rights constantly overreached in looking for systemic discrimination, and was more interested in “punishing and embarrassing” institutions than working with them. She intends on providing the public “meaningful opportunities to provide input,” as well as intending to speed up the investigation process, because “justice delayed is justice denied.” I would first like to thank Sen. Murray, who I believe has done an excellent job in promoting the best interests of students during her years on the Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. As a college student, and a student who relied on the Office for Civil Rights  when I faced systemic discrimination in Duval County, Florida. I have a few questions for Secretary DeVos myself. Why shouldn’t the Office for Civil Rights be looking for signs of systemic discrimination? Duval County, the district where I went to high school, was somewhat infamous for disability discrimination. Off the top of my head, I can think of  three different discrimination cases each involving restraining and secluding an autistic child. One of these cases dates all the way back to 2009. Why should all three of these students face the same atrocity? Shouldn’t the first case be enough to make a school district change their policies? The Office for Civil Rights is a legal entity; it exists to investigate and enforce civil rights laws. When a school district, college, or university is found to have violated the law, mediation is part of the process they go through. The party that filed the complaint has to have a meeting with representatives of the district, college or university, and see if they can reach an agreement that works for both the student and the school. If a district, college, or university is found guilty by the Office for Civil Rights, and can’t reach an agreement with the student, why shouldn’t they be punished? Isn’t punishment, or in other words, consequences, expected for breaking the law? From personal experience, I agree that the Office for Civil Rights does take a very long time for the investigations, but I believe that’s by design. The Office for Civil Rights is a legal entity; the legal system is slow and deliberate. I understand the adage “justice delayed is justice denied,” but isn’t it better late than never?
Elijah Armstrong
Elijah Armstrong graduated from Penn State in 2019, and from The Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2020. In 2021 he started the Heumann-Armstrong award, a scholarship for students in the 6th grade and up (including higher education) who have experienced and fought against ableism in education.

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