Office for Civil Rights’ “Dear Colleague Letters”: Why Are They Important?

Just since late 2010, the U.S DOE’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has issued nearly a dozen “Dear Colleague Letters” (DCLs) addressing “discriminatory conduct” in K-12 schools. These guidance documents, some released in collaboration with the Department of Justice (DOJ), cover issues such as retaliation, bullying/harassment, sexual violence, and inclusion of students with disabilities in athletics. Schools are obligated to comply with the DCLs’ requirements, along with state and federal regulations.

School districts are required to “take proactive measures to prevent” discriminatory conduct. OCR considers improving school climate a critical strategy for reducing and preventing discriminatory harassment and discriminatory discipline.

Research indicates that improving school climate improves the overall social, emotional, civic, and academic health of our school communities. Equity-centered school climate improvement positively impacts the range of civil rights concerns that OCR (and often DOJ) addresses through the DCLs and other publications.

We offer a brief analysis of specific DCLs and their relationship to school climate improvement here.

In addition, please click on the links below to view various DCLs that focus on critical issues for districts and schools.