Civil Rights

Civil Rights Discrimination in Education FAQ

Q: Can the Department of Justice represent an individual who alleges that he or she hasn't been properly represented by a private attorney?

  • A:No. Individuals who believe that they've been improperly represented by a private attorney may want to bring their concerns to the attention of the state bar association in their area.

Q: Do federal anti-discrimination laws extend to private schools?

  • A:If a school is genuinely private, it isn't covered by Title IV. But if it received federal funds, it's 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: How does the Educational Opportunities Section ("EOS") get involved in a case?

  • A:The EOS 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).

Q: If a booster club donates funds to a school for specific boys' teams, can girls' teams demand that the school provide equal funds for their teams?

  • A:Yes. The school is ultimately responsible for treating its male and female athletes equally, so it could ask the booster club to allow the money to be spent equally on the males and females, make up the difference from its own funds, or the school could refuse the booster club's donation.

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

  • A:You have at least four options:

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

Q: I'm in a School to Careers program at my high school and get credit for doing an internship at a local business. My internship site always gives the boys better job assignments, and my supervisor has made some really sexist comments. What can I do about this?

  • A:What is happening at your internship may be sex discrimination that is in violation of Title IX. Your school has the responsibility to remedy any sex discrimination in an educational program that it has control over and knows about. It doesn't matter if the discrimination takes place off school property, or if the person discriminating against you is not a school employee.

    You should tell the School to Careers coordinator at your school, along with anyone else who has authority to make changes to this program (such as the principal of your school). Check your school's policy for addressing complaints for sex discrimination, which every school must have.

    Your school must either help fix the problem at your internship site, or end their partnership with the local business.

Q: Must a school provide the same type and quality of facilities and equipment (for example, fields, locker rooms, uniforms, team equipment) for girls' teams that are provided for boys' teams?

  • A:Yes. Schools must treat their male and female athletes equally overall, but they don't have to provide the exact same benefits and opportunities to each girls' and boys' team. For example, if a school provides the boys' baseball team with a high-tech field, but doesn't do so for the girls' softball team, the school is probably discriminating against the girls, unless it can show that it is treating another girls' team better than the comparable boys' team. That might make its overall treatment of girls and boys equal.

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

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

Q: My daughter's school has a soccer team for boys but not for girls. Does the school have to add a girls' soccer team?

  • A:Not necessarily. A school isn't obligated to provide the exact same opportunities to both boys and girls. It must provide equal opportunity to participate. This means a school must attempt to provide about the same level of participation opportunity. A school could offer boys football and soccer, and girl's basketball and tennis, for example. The number of opportunities for males and females should be proportional to their representation in the student body.

Q: My school had a career day, and the only women there were talking about childcare, nursing and cosmetology. Can I complain?

  • A:Yes. Your school has a responsibility under the law not to perpetuate gender stereotypes when it is counseling you about career choices and vocational education choices. Having only men talk about traditionally male jobs, such as computer programming and plumbing, and having women talk about traditionally female jobs, such as nursing, might make students think that only men can be plumbers and only women can be nurses. You should complain to your school about gender stereotypes in their career counseling. The school has a responsibility to make sure students know that their sex doesn't control their job choices.

Q: My school is planning to create math and science classes for girls. Is that allowed under the law?

  • A:Yes, if your school is creating separate math or science classes for girls in order to address ongoing discrimination or eliminate barriers to advancement based on sex. But your school can't create separate classes for girls based on stereotypes that may serve to perpetuate traditional gender classifications. For example, if your school plans to teach math to the girls in a diluted form based on the stereotype that girls are bad with numbers, this would not be lawful. And your school must continue to provide equal coeducational opportunities for the girls.

Q: My school recently gave a math placement test to all students. I did not pass the test and neither did most of the other girls in my class, even though we all do very well in math. Is there anything wrong with this?

  • A:The use of this test may be in violation of Title IX. If few of the girls can score high enough on this test to get into the advanced placement math class, the school may have to show that the test is a valid and reliable way to make the decision about who should be enrolled in the class. Even if the test is valid and reliable, if there are other valid tests that can be used that girls who do well in math are able to pass, the school should make those tests available.

Q: The male athletes at my college get more athletic scholarship money than the female athletes. Is this ok?

  • A:It depends on how many men compared to women are varsity athletes. Colleges have to provide male and female varsity athletes with their fair share of athletic scholarships, which means that the percentage of the total athletic scholarship budget awarded to male and female athletes must generally match their participation rates. For example, if 60% of the athletes at your college are male and 40% are female, then the men should get about 60% of the total athletic scholarship dollars, and the women 40% of those dollars.

Q: What can parents do to make sure that their school treats male and female athletics fairly?

  • A:They can:

    • Talk to the school's athletic department and ask that they address any problems
    • Contact the school's Title IX coordinator (the law requires each school to have one)
    • Use the school's internal complaint procedure (another legal requirement)
    • File a complaint with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (1-800-421-3481), which investigates and resolves Title IX complaints; or
    • File a lawsuit

Q: What if an individual would like to file a private lawsuit but cannot afford to pay for one?

  • A:That individual may want to contact a local legal aid agency to find out whether that agency can be of any help.

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

  • A:Section 504 prohibits exclusion, denial of benefits and discrimination by reason of disability in programs or activities receiving federal funds. The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights ("OCR") has primary responsibility for enforcing Section 504's provisions with respect to those who receive federal education funds.

Q: What is the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA")?

  • 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.

    The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights ("OCR") has primary responsibility for investigating Title II complaints.

    Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public accommodations, such as schools, operated by private entities. The Department of Justice has primary responsibility for enforcing Title III as it relates to education.

Q: What is the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

  • A:It prohibits 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
    • 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.

    The EEOA also requires school districts to take action to overcome students' language barriers that impede equal participation in educational programs.

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. The Department of Education has primary responsibility for enforcing the IDEA.

Q: What is the relationship between the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and EOS?

  • A:If OCR, after investigating a charge of discrimination against a school, school district or college, determines that a violation of the law has occurred and conciliation efforts are unsuccessful, the Department of Education may refer the charge to the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice may, within its prosecutorial discretion, start a court case.

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.

    The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights ("OCR") has primary responsibility for enforcing Title IX's provisions with respect to recipients of federal education funds.

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