Discrimination in a school setting is prohibited by a variety of federal laws. Schools may not engage in “selective admissions”, which is the practice of denying admission to school based on a protected category such as:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • National Origin
  • Religious belief

They are also prohibited from providing preferential treatment on the basis of such categories. 

The following are some examples of law that prohibit discrimination in education:

  • Equal Educational Opportunities Act (EEOA) - which prohibits public schools from discriminating on the basis of race, color, or nationality.
  • Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - prohibits schools that receive public funding from discriminating on the basis of race or religious belief. 
  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 - bans discrimination on the basis of gender or sex.
  • 14th Amendment of the Constitution - prohibits denying individuals the equal protections of the law.
  • Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 - prohibits discrimination based on disability.

Additionally, each state may have its own laws that provide protection against discrimination in addition to federal acts. Anti-discrimination laws also apply to employment and hiring. Violations of anti-discrimination laws are very serious and can result in severe legal consequences.

Is There a Difference between Discrimination in Public vs. Private Schools?

Yes. Generally, federal anti-discrimination laws only apply to public schools or schools that receive federal funding. This means private schools are generally exempt from many federal discrimination laws.

Many private schools base admission on a theme, such as a religious belief or sex. For example, it would be ludicrous to require an all-girls Catholic school to admit a male student. If the private schools do not receive federal funding, then they might be allowed to exclude students who do not fit the school’s targeted demographic.

However, private schools must sometimes still adhere to anti-discrimination laws when it comes to race and gender. Many jurisdictions are split with regards to a student’s sexual orientation. Depending on where the private school is located, there may be certain exceptions to how these laws apply.

What Can I Do If I Have Been Discriminated against by a School?

If you feel that a federally-funded school has discriminated against you on the basis of your race, sex, national origin, or religion, then you may be entitled to relief. Below details how you may seek relief if you have been discriminated against:

1) File a report. Generally, this report should be filed with an administrative agency, such as the U.S. Department of Education. The Department of Education has a separate branch called the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which handles discrimination claims.

When filing this report, consider making a detailed account of the incident. Be sure include key information such as:

  • Dates
  • Locations
  • Persons involved
  • Witnesses and their contact information. 

The OCR will then conduct an investigation to determine whether any federal or state laws have been violated. They may prescribe a number of remedies, such as an injunction requiring the school to implement new anti-discrimination policies.      

2) File a lawsuit. This will likely be the last resort.

  • Public Schools: The offended party usually must “exhaust their remedies” through an administrative agency before they can file a lawsuit. This means that a lawsuit can only be filed after an investigation by the agency has proven unsuccessful.
  • Private Schools: If the school is a private institution or does not receive federal funding, you may be able to file a lawsuit right away. However, seeking to redress your wrong outside of the courtroom may be a desirable approach.

Whether you are suing a public school or suing a private school, you will be required to prove that the school was aware of the discrimination but did nothing to prevent it. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for an Educational Discrimination Claim?

Discrimination in a school setting can be a complex matter involving several different parties. You should contact a government lawyer to determine whether you have a viable claim under state and federal laws. A lawyer will be able to assist you when filing with an administrative agency, and they can also provide representation if a lawsuit is filed.