Data On Students’ Civil Rights Has Never Been More Important. Here’s How to Improve It.

How many reports of sexual harassment and assault did my school receive last year? Does my child’s school disproportionately suspend Black girls? If I become pregnant, will my school support me? Does my school have a policy on protecting transgender and nonbinary students? 

The U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) can help students and their families find the answers to these questions.  

Since 1968, the Department has required every school district in the country to report data on school climate, quality, services, and student outcomes in a way that protects students’ privacy through the CRDC. Data is then published online so students, families, schools, policymakers, and advocates can better understand the educational experiences of students. In December 2021, the Department proposed changes to the CRDC for the 2021-22 school year and asked the public for feedback. The National Women’s Law Center submitted comments, in February 2022 and October 2022, recommending ways the Department can improve its data collection on a wide range of issues, including sexual harassment, school discipline, and discrimination against LGBTQI+ and pregnant and parenting students. Here are some things we asked the Department to do: 

  1. Collect more data about sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking.

Many PK-12 students experience sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking by their classmates or by school staff, but when they ask for help, they are often ignored or even punished by their schools in violation of Title IX. So, we ask that the Department collect separate data on each of these incidents, including how schools respond when students report these incidents. We also recommend the Department require schools to report off-campus incidents and use inclusive definitions of “sexual assault,” “dating violence,” and “stalking,” to capture all types of incidents that could affect equal access to education. And we recommend the Department consider collecting data on how often students are suspended, expelled, or otherwise disciplined after reporting they are a victim of sex-based harassment. 

  1. More fully capture the experiences of LGBTQI+ students.

LGBTQI+ students, especially transgender and nonbinary students, face high rates of harassment in schools, making it harder for them to learn and feel safe. To more accurately capture their experiences, we ask that the Department clarify that there are many types of sexual orientations and gender identities and require schools to report data about harassment based on gender expression, transgender status, and intersex traits. While we support the collection of incidents of religious harassment, we also urge the Department to make it clear that affirming the identities of LGBTQI+ students is not religious harassment. And we recommend the Department provide more guidance and technical support to schools for collecting, reporting, and analyzing this data. 

  1. Collect more data on how schools discipline students.

Black girls , LGBTQI+ students, and pregnant and parenting students are disciplined at alarmingly high rates, but the current CRDC doesn’t make it easy for students or other advocates to understand the full scope of disparities in school discipline. We urge the Department to collect data on in-school suspensions of preschool children; discipline of pregnant and parenting students; informal removals from the classroom, like sending a student home for a dress code violation; “threat assessments”; and assaults by school police. We also ask that the Department break down all discipline data by race and other characteristics—like sex and disability—and expand data collection on alternative schools and educational programs for students involved in the juvenile legal system. We recommend the Department strengthen requirements for schools to report whether and how they are isolating students or using devices, chemicals, or school staff—including school police—to restrict students’ ability to move, as these tactics can often traumatize, injure, or be fatal. 

  1. Expand data collection on pregnant and parenting students.

Even though Title IX prohibits pregnancy-based harassment, the CRDC does not currently collect data on these incidents. On top of bullying and harassment, pregnant and parenting students face unique barriers to graduation that are rarely captured in datasets, like being subjected to inflexible attendance policies or otherwise being pushed out of school. That’s why we support the Department’s proposal to define sex-based harassment to include pregnancy-based harassment but also recommend the Department collect data on the discipline of pregnant and parenting students. And we ask that the Department collect data on whether pregnant and parenting students are offered and enrolled in different types of education programs, like AP classes and SAT and ACT test preparation. 

We also recommend changes to the CRDC related to athletics, virtual learning, preschools, single-sex classes, teachers, AP exams, and much more. Overall, we recommend the Department continue collecting data every year—instead of every two years—and expand its efforts to disaggregate and cross-tabulate data. 

By following NWLC’s recommendations, the Department can give students, families, schools, policymakers, and advocates a clearer understanding of students’ experiences and how schools are falling short of providing students with equal access to education. With this data, we will all better equipped to fight discrimination in our schools and advocate for safer, better, and more inclusive schools.