NOBODY THAT WE KNOW enjoys filling out forms, especially the sorts of forms that are imposed upon all of us by the federal bureaucrats. So it should come as no surprise that for several years there has been a heated debate throughout the country about the Elementary and Secondary School Civil Rights Survey - two forms that HEW requires public school systems to complete. HEW insists that it has to have this detailed information on race, sex, physical handicap and language to enforce provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and subsequent legislation barring various kinds of discrimination in public schools. The result is a small rebellion on the part of some teachers and school administrators around the country two resent the burden these reports place upon them. They are not only refusing to fill out the forms but have also carried their protest to the corridors of HEW.
Now this is not, we hasten to add, one of your classic confrontations. But the argument is interesting in that it does help point up a useful distinction between government paperwork requirements that are genuinely onerous beyond reason - somehow the number 1040 comes most quickly to mind - and those that not only serve a vital purpose but also impose a relatively light burden upon private citizens. After examining the Civil Rights Survey, we would put it firmly in the second category.
And we would not rest the case on our word alone. The Children's Defense Fund, a private research group, has gone into the matter in considerable depth for HEW and concluded that the survey is 1) necessary and 2) not really as much of a bother as the schools would have you believe. For example, many school administrators charged that they were being asked for information that was already available to the federal government and could even be found right in HEW. CDF found that the charge was simply untrue; with only a few exceptions the federal government didn't have the information - and the state governments didn't have it either. Whar CDF did find was that the majority of school systems have the information within easy grasp and need to fill out only a few pages to comply with HEW's regulations. CDF also found that a number of school administrators were reluctant to fill out the forms because they were afraid that they were being asked to testify, in effect, against themselves by providing data on the way in which they handled minority or hadicapped youngsters. This reluctance was so strong that it cause a number of administrators so that they would not get chastised if it were later found that they had violated the law. Well, that might be a way around the problem, but it has more to do with self-preservation than with an orderly accounting of performance in response to the requirements of law.
CDF did make some recommendations to HEW about how the whole form-filling process could be made less complicated - and HEW says it plans to take CDF's words to heart. But as to the basic question of whether these forms could be dispensed with, the study's conclusion is that the Civil Rights Survey is the only means the federal government has to accurately identify discriminatory practices in public education and thus carry out the intent of various pieces of civil-rights legislation. If that's the case - and it seems to be - we think HEW is right to stand its ground.