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Web Accessibility Complaints Dismissed after Rules Change by DOE Office of Civil Rights

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Seal of the US Department of EducationSeal of the US Department of EducationEducation Advocate Marcie Lipsitt has filed more than 2,400 complaints with the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) against schools and universities with websites that she says aren’t accessible to individuals with disabilities. In mid-March, OCR changed the rules so that it can ignore Lipsitt’s complaints.

Under the changes to the OCR’s Case Processing Manual, a complaint may be dismissed without investigation where it “is a continuation of a pattern of complaints previously filed with OCR by an individual or group against multiple recipients or a complaint is filed for the first time against multiple recipients that, viewed as a whole, places an unreasonable burden on OCR’s resources.”

In other words, the new rule allows OCR to dismiss complaints brought by anyone who has filed multiple complaints against multiple organizations.

That’s not the only change to OCR rules. The revised Case Processing Manual prohibit complainants from relying on “media reports, journals/studies and/or other published articles as the basis for the alleged discrimination.”

The new rules also reduced the time allowed for complainants to provide additional information about a complaint from 20 to 14 days and abolished the ability of complainants to file administrative appeals with OCR.

In a statement to Education Week, Elizabeth Hill, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, noted that the changes were designed to allow OCR to better manage its case load. “Case processing procedures in the new CPM allow OCR to better accomplish this critical mission by improving OCR’s management of its docket, investigations, and case resolutions,” Hill said.

OCR is already using the revised Case Processing Manual to dismiss complaints against educational institutions. On March 16, OCR’s Cleveland Field Office dismissed Lipsitt’s 30+ outstanding complaints against educational institutions.

Lipsitt is not the only person to have their complaints dismissed by OCR. On March 20, OCR’s Atlanta Field Office dismissed nine complaints filed by Florida activist Joseph Poirier.

The letters made clear, however, that they did not foreclose the ability of Lipsitt or Poirier to bring private lawsuits against the educational institutions. Similarly, the dismissals do not prevent other individuals from filing complaints against the same institutions on the same grounds.

The dismissals are unlikely to be the last the OCR hears from Lipsitt, however. As an education advocate, Lipsitt helps other families navigate the often-overwhelming special education system, including filing formal complaints with OCR. Future complaints will likely come in the name of the students and families affected by inaccessible websites.

Since receiving the dismissal letters, Lipsitt has already helped her son Andrew, who has multiple disabilities, file complaints on his own behalf against two of the educational institutions.

This blog post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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