Last time we looked at an overview of the federal civil rights laws that apply to schools, colleges, and universities that accept federal money. Let’s get more specific.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin. The law protects racial minorities, of course, but it also protects students with limited English proficiency and those who are members of religious groups who are thought to share ancestry or ethnic characteristics (for example, Muslim and Jewish students).
Students with limited English proficiency must have access to services at school that are designed to help them overcome language barriers. They must also have the opportunity to participate in classes (for example, honors and AP) and programs (for example, Gifted and Talented) that meet their educational needs.
Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Males and females must be treated equitably in all aspects of school, including athletics, access to higher education, career/technical education, education for pregnant and parenting students, and math and science.
Have you ever wondered why sports opportunities for girls have exploded, or why “shop” and home economics are no longer gender specific classes, or why pregnant girls cannot be excluded from school, or why girls are strongly encouraged to pursue math and science classes and to attend college? It’s Title IX.
Although discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is not prohibited under Title IX, OCR has extended Title IX protections to LGBT students who experience gender-based harassment and/or a hostile environment.
Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and requires schools to provide a “free and appropriate public education” to all students with disabilities. Students with disabilities must have their individual educational needs met to the same extent as those of non-disabled students. The bullying that often targets children with disabilities is considered harassment and discrimination under Section 504.
Disability protections are complicated because there are federal laws involved other than Section 504. IDEA, which governs special education, is quite different from 504 because it actually generates money to serve disabled students. All students in special education are covered under Section 504, but not all students who receive 504 protections and services are eligible for special education placement.
Discrimination under civil rights laws occurs when students are denied equal educational opportunity because of race, color, national origin, sex, or disability. It is not discrimination when students who have always enjoyed access to educational opportunity are asked to share those opportunities with others who have not.
Parents or community members who have concerns about discrimination in any educational institution should begin by expressing those concerns to teachers and administrators at the institution. If concerns are not adequately addressed, any citizen can file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights. Complaint forms are easily accessed online and do not require the assistance of an attorney. Not all complaints meet the criteria for investigation and there are timelines for filing a complaint. In most cases, complaints are resolved through voluntary action by the school.