NAACP Legal Defense Fund Condemns Education Department’s Decision to Scale Back Civil Rights Enforcement

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education signaled that it would all but abandon its mandate to enforce civil rights protections in America’s public schools, jeopardizing the well-being and academic success of millions of children at a moment when they need those protections more than ever; last year, the department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) reported receiving more than 10,000 civil rights complaints in 2015, the highest number in its history.

In an internal memo to department employees, Candice Jackson, the Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, effectively rescinded mandates requiring investigators to address systemic school climate issues and to alert officials in Washington of urgent complaints on issues like the disproportionate disciplining of minority students and the mishandling of sexual assaults on college campuses. The OCR has played a critical role in investigating school discipline policies that result in disproportionate punishment of Black girls and boys. Ending racially discriminatory school discipline policies is essential to dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline.

Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), issued the following statement:

“This appalling directive comes almost exactly one month after the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Brown v. Board of Education. It constitutes a wholesale attack on Brown’s promise, as well as an abdication of the Education Department’s responsibility to protect the rights and dignity of our nation’s vulnerable children during the most crucial years of their lives, threatening not only to stall progress on racial, gender and sexual orientation equality in schools, but to undo it altogether. The Congress – particularly Senator Lamar Alexander, Chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions – should immediately exercise its oversight powers and demand Education Secretary Betsy DeVos explain how the department intends to fulfill its mandate to safeguard children of color, LGBTQ children, and other vulnerable groups without an effective Office of Civil Rights. Furthermore, Congress should use its budgetary powers to ensure that, in accordance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, no federal dollars go to Education Department programs that discriminate. And the Education Department’s regional offices – which retain considerable discretion under this new directive – should continue to do the right thing and vigorously investigate civil rights complaints, even though their superiors in Washington have decided to retreat from rights enforcement altogether.

“Unfortunately, this step, though alarming, is hardly surprising. Before her confirmation, LDF repeatedly argued that Secretary DeVos’s total lack of experience and commitment to civil rights – as well as her reported intention to ‘rein inOCR – raised red flags about her willingness to carry out the Department’s civil rights obligations.   Our concerns have been borne out by her actions since taking office, including her unwillingness to forthrightly state in recent hearings that the Department will not fund schools that engage in discrimination. It is now up to Congress to compel Secretary DeVos to fulfill the mandate of the Department of Education.”



Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.