Are Oklahoma’s Noncompliant School Districts Violating Civil Rights Laws?

Published January 3, 2011

Oklahoma public schools that violate the civil rights of students risk losing federal education funds, U.S. Department of Education official Jim Bradshaw told CapitolBeatOK recently.

That information may be of particular interest to advocates of, and families with, special-needs schoolchildren—the beneficiaries of a new state law intended to improve their educational options. While state money is involved in the new statute, federal civil rights provisions could still apply.

Complaints about civil rights violations in public schools can be filed at no cost—the process is free, anonymous, and can take as little as six months. However, a complaint must be filed within six months of the alleged civil rights violation.
“Anyone may file a complaint of discrimination, even if they, themselves, are not the ‘injured party,'” Bradshaw explained.

A handful of school districts in the Tulsa area, all advised by a controversial law firm whose fees are under scrutiny from budget-watchers, are so far refusing to recognize the law.

Under the new provision, and arguably under existing federal provisions, when special-needs children transfer out of a district, they take with them the state public school funding from the school they are departing. In short, the money follows the child.

In recent news accounts, one family said they believed their only alternative, in light of the intransigence of the local school board, might be a lawsuit.