At the heart of HSC’s work is a commitment to equity, particularly at the intersection of health and education. We focus on ensuring all students have the opportunity to learn in a healthy school environment. Within the federal government is an office whose work often stands at the same intersection where equity, health and education meet: the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
Now, this critical office is at risk of being dramatically scaled back or even eliminated. Leaders in the Trump administration have publicly discussed weakening or eliminating the OCR in particular and scaling back the Department of Education in general. This would be a tremendous setback for school health and educational equity. We cannot afford to scale back the day-to-day work of supporting our nation’s core promise of equal opportunity through education.
The OCR works to ensure a fair and equitable education system for all students. It has played an important role in connecting the school environment to equity and advancing discussions around school climate, bullying, chronic absenteeism, school support services and other issues.
A key tool for advancing this work is the Civil Rights Data Collection, a survey conducted every other year which 99.2 percent of U.S. schools complete. This data enables OCR to identify inequities related to issues such as teacher qualification, discipline, graduation rates and more. HSC has advocated for the inclusion of health and wellness in the data collection tool; In 2014, several health measures were added. Recently, OCR also added a measure for chronic absenteeism, a factor that is closely connected to student health and schools’ capacity to support health. This measure has been tremendously important in revealing patterns of chronic absenteeism in schools across the country. For many communities, this has been a crucial step in amassing resources to successfully address chronic absenteeism and ensure students who face chronic health conditions are able to attend school and learn.
Without support from the OCR and the data it collects and publishes, stakeholders across the country would be severely limited in their efforts to identify and address inequities in education, including those related to health and wellness. This means progress to identify and address health disparities and related efforts to close the academic achievement gap would likely falter or even regress. This has far-reaching implications for the health and learning of our nation’s students—particularly vulnerable children—and for our society as those students become adults.
HSC strongly opposes efforts to weaken or eliminate the OCR and is ready to raise our voice in support of its vital work.