What is the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR)?
The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is the federal agency that enforces federal civil rights laws in schools and other educational institutions.
What entities are covered by the OCR?
Any educational programs or activities that receive federal funds from the Department of Education. This includes all public schools, most public and private colleges and universities, and other programs that receive federal funds, such as some libraries and vocational rehabilitation agencies.
What types of discrimination does the OCR investigate?
The OCR investigates discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age, and disability. The OCR investigates disability discrimination under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. These federal laws apply to discrimination against people with disabilities, individuals who have a record of having a disability, and those who are regarded as having a disability.
What is a complaint of discrimination?
A complaint of discrimination is a signed statement stating that a school or program covered by the OCR has discriminated against you. It asks the OCR to investigate the discrimination that occurred.
Who can file a complaint of discrimination with the OCR?
Anyone who is at least 18 years of age can file a complaint of discrimination, either on behalf of themselves, another person, or a group experiencing discrimination.
If you file a complaint on behalf of another person(s), you will need to have that person’s permission and submit a written Consent Form by mail. The Consent Form is available on the OCR website here:
The Consent Form must be submitted to the OCR by mail even if you email the rest of your complaint information.
If you are submitting a complaint on behalf of a minor, you must submit a consent form signed by their parent or legal guardian by mail or fax, even if you submit the rest of your complaint information by email.
How long do I have to file a complaint of discrimination with the OCR?
An OCR complaint must be filed within 180 days of the last act of discrimination.
Many schools have internal/institutional grievance or complaint procedures. It is not required that an individual go through the internal process before they file an OCR complaint. However, if you choose to go through an internal process and you want to file an OCR complaint, you must file your OCR complaint within 60 days after the completion of the school’s internal process.
Can I file my complaint if I have missed the deadline?
Yes. If it has been more than 180 days since the last act of discrimination occurred, you may still submit a complaint. When you submit your complaint, you should request to file a late complaint and explain why your complaint is late. The 180-day requirement may be forgiven if you show there was “good cause” for the late filing.
Some examples of “good cause” include illness, other incapacitating circumstances, and conditions created by the OCR which adversely impacted the complaint. For a list of additional good causes and more specific information on proving good cause, see Section 107 of the OCR’s Case Processing Manual at https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/ocrcpm.pdf and available on the OCR website.
Can I file a complaint with a different agency?
Yes, you may file a complaint with a different agency. However, the OCR will not investigate your case if it is currently being handled by another agency or the school’s internal process which the OCR believes will result in a resolution that is comparable to the one you would receive through the OCR.
You may file or re-file an OCR complaint after the school’s internal process or complaint process with another agency has concluded. You have 60 days to file or re-file your complaint with the OCR after the alternate complaint process ends.
How do I file a complaint with the OCR?
There are three ways you can file a complaint with the OCR:
- Submit your complaint online: You may file a complaint with the OCR by filing out the electronic complaint form linked on the OCR’s website.
- Discrimination Complaint Form PDF: You may send the OCR’s Discrimination Complaint Form, which is available as a fillable PDF, to the OCR via mail or email.
- Writing Your Own Letter: You may write your own letter and either email or mail it to the OCR. This letter must be signed.
You can find both the electronic complaint form and PDF complaint form on the OCR’s website here: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaintintro.html
The OCR’s email is [email protected]
The OCR has multiple offices around the country. To find the mailing address for the office serving your state, visit this link: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/addresses.html
What do I include in my complaint?
If you fill out the electronic complaint form or the Discrimination Complaint Form PDF, you will be asked to provide the reason for your complaint and describe any act(s) of discrimination you believe you have experienced. Be sure to include:
- The kind of discrimination (race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, and retaliation) that you or the person(s) you are filing for experienced.
- A description of the discriminatory act(s) with all dates, the name of each person involved, and the name of all witnesses.
- The most recent date that a discriminatory act occurred. Remember, if more than 180 days have passed since this date, you will need to request a waiver and explain why you did not file on time.
- The reason(s) you believe the act(s) were discriminatory.
- Ways you have attempted to resolve the situation and the name of any school office, official, or designated employee with whom you attempted to resolve the situation.
- Whether you used an internal grievance procedure, appeal, or due process hearing.
- Whether you have filed with another agency or court. You should include any specific information you have about the complaint you filed, including the name of the agency/court, the date filed, the case or reference number, the status, and the result or finding.
- The resolution you are seeking.
If you choose to write your own letter to send to the OCR via email or mail, be sure to include all the above information and the following information:
What happens after I file a complaint?
After you file your complaint, the OCR will evaluate each of your claims to decide if it should investigate. If the OCR decides to investigate, they will send you and the school a letter stating that the OCR is opening an investigation.
If the OCR decides to investigate your complaint, the OCR may review documents, interview you, any witnesses, and personnel of the school you are bringing the complaint against. The OCR might also conduct site visits.
At the end of the investigation, the OCR will decide whether it believes discrimination occurred. The OCR will provide you and the school with a letter explaining its findings. If the OCR finds the school discriminated against you, the OCR will try to settle your complaint with the school.
What happens if I want to file a lawsuit?
You do not need to file a complaint with the OCR to file a lawsuit. If you choose to file a complaint in federal or state court, you can still to file an OCR complaint after your lawsuit ends. Under some circumstances, you may be able to file or re-file an OCR complaint within 60 days after your lawsuit ends.
You may also choose to file a suit in a federal court after the OCR accepts and resolves your complaint, regardless of the OCR’s findings.
Where can I go if I have more questions about filing a complaint with the OCR?
More information about the complaint process is available on the OCR’s website: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/index.html
Additional information on how to file a complaint can be found here: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/howto.html
Information about how the OCR handles complaints can be found here: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaints-how.html
Answers to common questions about the complaint process can be found here: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/qa-complaints.html
A short video explaining requirements for submitting a complaint, the complaint evaluation process, and other information about the OCR can be found here: https://youtu.be/dvxa5dYNKK8