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Complaints made to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in 2016 more than doubled those of last year, culminating eight years during which complaints skyrocketed by 170 percent, according to a new report issued by the agency.

The report, “Securing Equal Educational Opportunity” noted that OCR processed nearly 17,000 complaints – exceeding last year’s record high by 61 percent – and opened nearly 4,000 investigations (29 percent more than last year). The agency resolved 8,625 cases overall.

The majority of complaints (46 percent or 7,747 filings) involved gender discrimination, many of which centered on alleged Title IX violations relating to equal opportunity in schools’ athletics programs. The report also noted a spike in sexual violence complaints at the K-12 level (277 percent increase) and college level (831 percent increase) in the past five years.

Harassment on the basis of skin color and ethnicity has also risen since 2011, the report noted. Reports of such nature rose 17 percent during the period and comprised 15 percent (2,439) of total filings in 2016. During the past year, 198 cases involved complaints related to racial harassment at colleges and universities, a category that has doubled over the past eight years.

Another area of growing concern involves discrimination based on disability status, which comprised 36 percent (5,936) of all complaints in 2016. For example, the report noted a 100 percent increase in complaints related to the restraint and seclusion of students with disabilities in the past five years.

“I will be forever haunted by some of the facts we uncovered during our investigations, including resolutions involving a student with a disability whose teacher told her to kill herself; a nine-year-old whose school subjected him to prone restraint or recovery from restraint for more time than he received instruction, and whose mother heard him crying in a restraint room while she was outside the school in the parking lot on her way to pick him up; an Arab American student whose peers hurled slurs including ‘terrorist at her in school hallways; a recent immigrant student being taunted ‘Welcome to America as he was physically assaulted, sustaining severe injuries; and a college student whose university, despite her reporting she had been sexually assaulted by a campus security officer, failed to investigate appropriately the potential risk to other students,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon in her introduction. “These facts underscore our ongoing need to safeguard the civil rights guaranteed to all students.”

Lhamon said despite the ballooning complaints, the report culminates eight “productive” years under the Obama administration.

“While numbers alone can never tell the full story, the 76,000 complaints we handled, the 66,000 cases we resolved, the more than 5,400 resolution agreements we reached, and the 34 policy guidance documents we issued between 2009 and 2016 speak volumes about ongoing student need and this agency’s service to our school communities,” she said.

Read the full report here.

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO