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Education Dept. to reduce school civil rights investigations

Under the leadership of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Department of Education will be scaling back the scope and number of its civil rights investigations into public schools and universities. In part, this is in response to Obama-era mandates said to have bogged down the department.

The acting head of the agency's civil rights office issued an internal memo with the changes. The Obama Administration had required investigators to broaden all inquiries to include the identification of systemic issues and ensure all classes of victims are known. It also required regional offices to alert agency higher-ups when receiving complaints regarding race-based, disproportionate discipline and campus sexual assaults.

The result of the Obama-era policies was to open large, far-reaching investigations and enforcement decisions that sometimes required educational institutions to overhaul their policies in order to address civil rights concerns.

A spokesperson for the agency says that the Obama approach led to skyrocketing numbers of complaints -- and correspondingly skyrocketing processing times. The agency apparently has not staffed up in response to the increasing numbers of civil rights complaints, and the agency has a goal of closing cases within 180 days.

"Justice delayed is justice denied, and justice for many complainants has been denied for too long," added the spokesperson.

Whether the new policies will improve things is open to question. Civil rights activists say the previous policies encouraged people to bring forward their concerns, and worry that an "efficiency first" model will have the opposite effect.

Others, such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, felt the Obama Administration had already overstepped its bounds in areas such as campus sexual assault.

The independent U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, however, has signaled "grave concerns" about the new policy. The commission is a bipartisan agency that advises the legislative and administrative branches on civil rights law. The group identified the changes at the Education Department as particularly troubling, according to the New York Times.

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