Racial Discrimination in Education

Racial discrimination in education refers to any harassment of students based on race, color, or national origin. Discrimination can happen at any age from preschool through college and can be caused by teachers, administrators, other staff members, or other students. In an attempt to prevent racial discrimination and eliminate the hostile educational environment it fosters, the federal government has established Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Under this federal law, any school receiving government funding cannot discriminate against any student based on race, color, or national origin.

Title VI created an office dedicated to the investigation of racial discrimination on school campuses known as the Office for Civil Rights. The Office for Civil Rights makes racial discrimination determinations by asking whether the school has created or allowed a racially hostile environment that prevents affected students from adequately learning or thriving in the environment. If the school does discriminate, it may lose government funding and be penalized with government sanctions. Racial discrimination in education tends to take the following forms.

Racial Discrimination: Harassment by Teachers, Administrators and Students

The most common teacher discrimination is related to in-class discipline. Many of these reported cases involve a teacher punishing a particular student more harshly because of the student’s minority status. This is especially common among African American and Latino students, particularly those in high school. Other teacher-related discrimination can range from unfair grading to acceptance of discriminatory behavior from other students in the classroom.

Administrator-related discrimination is more common than teacher discrimination. On elementary and high school campuses, administrators may over-penalize minority students. Specifically, minority students at these schools may be more likely to be suspended or expelled than their majority peers. Title VI private schools have also been fined for refusing to accept minority students into their programs. Title VI universities are typically fined for failing to meet affirmative action requirements.

The most common form of racial discrimination in education is harassment by students. The Office for Civil Rights reports incidents of “racially motivated physical attacks, racial epithets scrawled on school walls and organized hate activity directed at students.” While isolated incidents by a student on a school campus may not trigger an investigation, repeated offenses or a lack of consequences for offenders when incidents occur can lead to an investigation by the Office for Civil Rights.

Responding to Racial Discrimination in Education

If your child is the victim of racial discrimination at school, contact the Office for Civil Rights and file a complaint. Your complaint will be investigated and the school reminded of the prohibition of racial harassment in federally funded schools. If the investigation proves that discriminatory actions are taking place at the school, the Office for Civil Rights will require that the school adopt anti-harassment policies that must be fully enforced. If enforcement fails, the Office for Civil Rights will fine the school for each incident or may revoke public funding.

If you have suffered serious physical, mental, or emotion injury as a result of discriminatory actions, contact a Title VI attorney. Your attorney can help you protect your interests and will advise you as to whether you should file a civil case or allow the authorities to complete their own investigation. If possible, gather evidence about the racial harassment. For example, if racial epithets are spray-painted on the walls, take pictures before the walls are re-painted. If your child is physically attacked in an act of racial discrimination, get a copy of the emergency room report and take photographs of the injuries.