Gaps in the Armor: Predictors of Civil Rights Complaints in Pennsylvania's Elementary & Secondary Schools

Open Access
Worthington, Stephen Staley
Graduate Program:
Educational Theory and Policy
Master of Arts
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
November 04, 2016
Committee Members:
  • Maria M Lewis, Thesis Advisor
  • civil rights
  • education
  • discrimination
  • Pennsylvania
  • Office for Civil Rights
  • public schools
  • Title VI
  • Title IX
  • Section 504
  • race
  • disability
  • charter schools
  • educational equity
  • binary logistic regression
  • special education funding
  • special education disputes
  • dispute resolution
This thesis uses legal analysis and statistical techniques to explore the relationship between the characteristics of elementary and secondary schools in Pennsylvania, and the characteristics of complaints filed against those schools with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”). It also examines the relationship between the basis of OCR complaints, and the outcome of those complaints. Findings indicate that: schools located within the suburbs of large cities were more likely to be targeted by OCR complaints, while charter schools were less likely to be targeted; schools were more likely to be targeted by complaints alleging racial discrimination when they enrolled a high percentage of minority students, but less likely when they enrolled a high percentage of free-or-reduced lunch eligible students; schools were more likely to enter agreements with OCR to change their disability-related policies and practices when the schools had a high percentage of students with disabilities; and schools were relatively unlikely to enter agreements to change their policies or practices in response to complaints alleging racial discrimination. This thesis recommends that lawmakers “close the gaps” in civil rights protections by extending certain procedural requirements which apply to sex and disability discrimination to also cover racial discrimination; that policymakers ensure that educators have the resources and training to protect students’ civil rights; and that regulators and civil rights advocates further their efforts to raise awareness of student rights, especially in vulnerable communities.