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Discrimination in Education - Federal Laws

Discrimination in education occurs when a person or entity takes unfair action (or inaction) against people belonging to certain categories in enjoying a full right to educational opportunities. This is considered a civil rights violation. Education discrimination can be on the basis of age, disability, gender, national origin, race, or religion. Typically, the discriminatory action can be perpetrated by teachers, administrators, or by other students.

Examples include harsher treatment of minority students compared to their non-minority counterparts regarding punishment like suspension, unfair grading policies, and the allowance and acceptance of discriminatory behavior perpetrated by other students in the classroom. In order to prevent discrimination in education and eradicate the hostile environment that it promotes, the federal government has enacted statutory protections.

Several federal civil rights laws prohibit discrimination in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education:

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act

There are various Title VI violations. For instance, the U.S. Department of Education reports that African American students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students, while students with disabilities are twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension as their non-disabled peers. Title VI private schools can be fined for not accepting minority students into their programs.


Under Title VI, a recipient may not retaliate against any person because he or she opposed an unlawful educational practice or policy or made changes, testified, or participated in any complaint under Title VI. If this does occur, it is considered a violation of Title VI.

Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972

Under Title IX, schools, universities, and colleges must provide equal opportunities for both genders in all aspects of eduction including:

  • Athletics
  • Course offerings
  • Student health insurance benefits
  • Employment
  • Financial assistance

Other Title IX violations include: preganancy discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. If institutions fail to comply with Title IX, they risk losing federal funding.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Under Section 504, educational institutions are required to make reasonable accommodations to help disabled students perform effectively. The goal is that the disabled students have equal access as those students without disablities.

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Under Title II, disabled students must have access to all of the educational benefits, services, and programs. Failure to construct new buildings and update older buildings in order to ensure access is a violation under the ADA.

Age Discrimination Act

The Age Discrimination Act protects students of all ages regarding educational opportunities unless the program has a valid reason for restricting students due to their age.

Applicable Programs and Facilities

These civil rights laws extend to all education programs and facilities that receive federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education, including:

  • State education agencies,
  • Elementary and secondary school systems,
  • Colleges and universities,
  • Vocational schools,
  • Proprietary schools,
  • State vocational rehabilitation agencies,
  • Libraries, and
  • Museums

Programs or activities that receive ED funds must provide aids, benefits, or services in a nondiscriminatory manner. Such aids, benefits, or services may include, but are not limited to:

  • Admissions,
  • Recruitment,
  • Financial aid,
  • Academic programs,
  • Student treatment and services,
  • Counseling and guidance,
  • Discipline,
  • Classroom assignment,
  • Grading,
  • Vocational education,
  • Recreation,
  • Physical education,
  • Athletics,
  • Housing, and
  • Employment

Obtain Legal Help From an Attorney

If you have suffered from discrimination in education by being denied housing due to your pregnacy status, being denied admission due to your age, or being unfairly disciplined due to your race, then you might have a valid discrimination claim. If you think that you or your child has experienced any kind of discrimination in education, you can get help from an attorney specializing in discrimination matters.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified civil rights attorney to help you protect your rights.

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