Various federal laws prohibit discrimination in education. These laws protect students against discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, sex/gender, disability, and age. They also prohibit bullying, harassment, and retaliation.
Race and National Origin
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance, which involves most K-12 schools and colleges and universities. Discrimination under Title VI could involve racial harassment, discrimination in discipline, discriminatory assignment to special education services, and denial of language services to English learners.
Title VI does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on religion, but it protect students from discrimination and harassment based on a student’s actual or perceived:
- Shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics; or
- Citizenship or residency in a country with a dominant religion or distinct religious identity.
Examples of religious discrimination include ethnic or ancestral slurs; harassment for how a student looks, dresses, or speaks in ways linked to ethnicity or ancestry; or stereotypes based on perceived shared ancestral or ethnic characteristics.
Title IX of the Education Amendments prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. Discrimination under Title IX might include sexual harassment, gender-based harassment, failure to provide equal opportunity in athletics, discrimination in curriculum, and discrimination based on pregnancy.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination based on disability in any program or activity operated by a recipient of federal funds. Educational institutions may not make pre-admission inquiries as to whether an applicant has a disability. Title II of the ADA also prohibits discrimination based on disability by public entities, regardless of whether they receive federal assistance. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) also requires schools to provide students with disabilities an education tailored to their individual needs. Discrimination under these laws might include denial of a free and appropriate education (“FAPE”) and refusal to implement academic adjustments in higher education.
The Age Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination based on age in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. Individuals who believe they have been subject to age discrimination must file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights before filing a lawsuit in court.
Civil rights laws prohibit retaliation against any individual who exercises his or her rights under those laws. Entities that receive federal funding are prohibited from intimidating, threatening, coercing, or discriminating against any person for the purpose of interfering with any right or privilege secured by civil rights laws.
What Can I Do if I Am Subjected to Discrimination in Education?
If a covered entity discriminates against you in education, you can file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”). You also may be able to file a private lawsuit, regardless of OCR’s findings. Note, however, that under Title VI, you can file a private lawsuit only if the discrimination was intentional, and for age discrimination you must file a complaint with OCR first.
Bullying and Harassment
Bullying and harassment by one or more students against another student has become a serious problem. School districts can violate civil rights laws when student-to student harassment or bullying is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed, or ignored by school employees.
Suspension or Expulsion
Administrators in K-12 schools and colleges and universities can make mistakes in decisions regarding student suspensions and expulsions. Students who are subject to a suspension or expulsion that is unfair or illegal can hire an attorney to help get a decision reversed.
Applicable Laws: Title VI of the Civil Rights Act; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act; Title XI of the Education Amendments Act; Age Discrimination Act; Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act; Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.