December 12, 2013

Why the Department of Ed’s Decision to Delay Data Collection of Anti-LGB Bullying is Disappointing but Perhaps Understandable

Earlier this year we lauded the efforts of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) after they proposed key additions to Civil Rights Data Collection that would, for the first time, require districts to report incidents and allegations of harassment or bullying of K-12 students on the basis of sexual orientation and religion (the office already collects data on bullying based on gender, race and other categories).

The CDRC instrument is a critical source of civil rights data for other government agencies, educators, researchers and the general public in the effort to promote equal educational opportunities for all students. In addition, the data collected by OCR is used to assist with enforcement efforts in schools and districts. Last week however, OCR indicated that it will delay mandatory implementation of such data collection, along with several other new proposed questions not related to LGBT issues. The data collection will be optional, however, which could still result in OCR collecting data on anti-LGB bullying for the first time.

OCR said it made the decision to delay some of the questions for three main reasons: to address concerns raised by school districts about the burden of additional data collection (OCR plans to make the tool more user-friendly and provide necessarily technical assistance), to ensure districts have the time needed to provide comprehensive and accurate data, and because the public comment period on all of the proposed new questions is still open. As such, most districts have not been collecting this type of information from the start of this school year and would not be able to provide accurate data for 2013-2014.

As a result of these concerns, data collection on sexual orientation-related and religion-related bullying is slated to be optional for this school year but would be required in the next CDRC data collection in 2015-2016.

It’s very disappointing that the rollout wasn't better handled and frustrating that these hurdles weren't better anticipated. The Department’s decision to delay these new requirements, however, is understandable considering where things currently stand. 

In the meantime, OCR will be collecting a second round of comments, and we encourage our partners and allies to submit statements supporting the mandatory data collection on incidents of bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation and religion. In addition, we encourage local advocates to request that school districts who have been collecting data about sexual orientation- and religious-based bullying report this data to OCR though the optional questions for 2013-2014.

OCR’s mission is to ensure access to equal educational opportunity for all students. The new data items represent critical areas of access. GLSEN will work to ensure that school districts report complete and accurate data to OCR in 2015-16. We will also continue to provide districts with the effective tools to combat bias-based bullying and harassment, including model policies, professional development and appropriate curriculum.

Sarah Munshi

About Sarah Munshi

Sarah is GLSEN's Public Policy Associate based in Washington, D.C.

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