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FAQ: Educational Opportunities Discrimination

Getting an education is a critical aspect of American life. From elementary school to higher education, students are supposed to have equal educational opportunities. Unfortunately, the promise of education is disrupted through the practice of discrimination, which interferes with a student's path to academic possibilities. However, there are various federal laws that help protect students against educational opportunities discrimination. See below for the most frequently asked questions related to this type of discrimination.

Q. What is the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and how does it relate to education?

A. The 1964 Act is the landmark legislation prohibiting discrimination in several areas including housing, employment and education. The sections of the Act relating to education are Title IV, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion or national origin by public elementary and secondary schools and public institutions of higher learning; Title VI, prohibiting discrimination by recipients of federal funds on the basis of race and national origin; and Title IX, permitting the United States to intervene in pending suits alleging discrimination.

Q. What is the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA)?

A. The EEOA prohibits specific discriminatory conduct, including segregating students on the basis of race, color or national origin, and discrimination against faculty and staff. Furthermore, the EEOA requires school districts to take action to overcome students' language barriers that impede equal participation in educational programs.

Q. What is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973?

A. Section 504 prohibits the exclusion, the denial of benefits, and discrimination by reason of disability in programs or activities receiving federal funds.

Q. What is the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA)?

A. The IDEA requires States and local education agencies to provide a free and appropriate public education to children with disabilities.

Q. What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and how does it relate to education?

A. The ADA was enacted in 1990 to address discrimination against persons with disabilities. Title II of the ADA provides that no individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, program, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity. Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public accommodations, such as schools, operated by private entities.

Q. What is Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972?

A. Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender by recipients of federal funds. Title IX has been applied to ensure adequate participation opportunities for female students in athletics and in cases of sexual harassment by school administrators, teachers and students.

Q. I am an employee of a school district that I believe has discriminated against me. What should I do?

A. At least four options may be considered:

  1. File an administrative grievance with the school district or teacher's union,
  2. Contact the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission,
  3. If the school district is under a desegregation order to which the United States is a party, contact EOS, or,
  4. Pursue a claim under EEOA.

Q. Do Federal Anti-Discrimination laws extend to private schools?

A. If a school is genuinely private, it is not covered by Title IV. If, however, it received federal funds, it is subject to the federal statutes prohibiting discrimination by federal fund recipients: Title VI, Title IX, Section 504. Private schools are also covered by Title III of the ADA.

Q. My children and I are not U.S. citizens. Are they prohibited from attending public schools?

A. No. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that non-U.S. citizen students, regardless of their legal immigration status, have the right to attend public schools in the school district of residence.

Q. How does the Federal Government get involved in an education discrimination case?

A. The Educational Opportunities Section (EOS) of the U.S. Department of Justice is statutorily authorized to initiate suits under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, and under Title III of the American with Disabilities Act. There are also several federal statutes for which the EOS has enforcement authority, although only after a referral from another government agency. Those statutes, generally, prohibit the recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating on several bases ( Title VI, Title IX, Section 504, Title II of ADA, and IDEA).

Get Legal Help From an Attorney

Going to school should be about stressing over grades and participating in social activities; students should not have to suffer from discrimination that impacts their educational opportunities. If you or your child has been discriminated against based on their sex, race, national origin, or other protected characteristic, then you should talk to an attorney experienced in discrimination issues.

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