For several years, the Brandeis Center has urged changes in how the Department of Education (ED) collects data that would help to protect religious groups from discrimination. ED has finally agreed to do so.
Commenting on the new development, LDB’s Kenneth L. Marcus said, “We commend ED for adopting this new policy, in line with the Brandeis Center’s recommendations, of collecting data on religious-based harassment and discrimination in public schools. The next step is to bring enforcement into line with the new data and ensure that students of all faiths receive the full protection of the law.”
In 2013, the Brandeis Center submitted formal comments to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) urging revisions to the Mandatory Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). Specifically, the Brandeis Center urged expansion of the CRDC to include data on religious bullying and harassment.
Since 2009, the CRDC has collected data on harassment based on sex, race, color, national origin, and disability. This data has been important in developing policy guidance for public schools. In the 2013 formal comments submitted to ED, Marcus stated,“[e]xpanding CRDC data to include reports of religious bullying and harassment is an important step towards protecting religious minorities from these forms of discrimination.” The Center further added that it is imperative that the Department of Education and the federal government provide the same level of protection to students of faith as other minority groups.
Over the summer, ED announced it would be implementing specific actions that will help “confront [religious] discrimination and promote inclusive school environments.” The Department introduced actions that include the creation of a website on religious discrimination and the creation of an updated civil rights complaint form.
ED has taken the actions that Marcus and the Brandeis Center have long recommended and has announced that they will be collecting data on the number of incidents of religious-based bullying and harassment that have taken place within public schools. This new policy will require that schools, across the country, submit data on incidents of religious-based bullying to the Office for Civil Rights through the Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection.
ED says the purpose of this data collection is to help policy makers and educators understand the scope and severity of religious-based bullying in public schools. In turn, educators are hopeful that the data collection will help protect students from further harassment and bullying. In a formal press release, Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said, “We will continue to work with schools and communities to stop discrimination and harassment so that all students have an equal opportunity to participate in school no matter who they are, where they come from or which faith, if any, they subscribe to.”
Marcus added, “It’s important to have good data, but it’s even more important to have strong enforcement.”