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The percentage of K-12 public schools that are racially and economically diverse is growing. Check out the laws and resources.

“Children who experience discrimination are more likely to have negative attitudes about school and lower academic motivation and performance, and are at an increased rate of dropping out of high school”

Discrimination Statistics

Educational institutions have a responsibility to protect every student’s right to learn in a safe environment free from unlawful discrimination and to prevent unjust deprivations of that right. The Office for Civil Rights enforces several Federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance from the Department of Education.

The percentage of K-12 public schools in the United States with students who are poor and are mostly Black or Hispanic is growing and these schools share a number of challenging characteristics. From school years 2000-01 to 2013-14(the most recent data available), the percentage of all K-12 public schools that had high percentages of poor and Black or Hispanic students grew from 9 to 16 percent.

These schools were the most racially and economically concentrated: 75 to 100 percent of the students were Black or Hispanic and eligible for free or reduced-price lunch—a commonly used indicator of poverty. Compared with other schools, these schools offered disproportionately fewer math, science, and college preparatory courses and had disproportionately higher rates of students who were held back in 9th grade, suspended, or expelled.

Discimination Information and Resources
Federal Civil Rights Laws

On May 17, 1954, in its Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision, the United States Supreme Court unanimously held that state laws establishing “separate but equal” public schools for Blacks and Whites were unconstitutional. Ten years after this decision, a relatively small percentage of Black children in the Deep South attended integrated schools. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in schools, employment, and places of public accommodation, and created a new role for federal agencies. Both the Department of Education’s (Education) Office for Civil Rights and the Department of Justice’s (Justice) Civil Rights Division’s Educational Opportunities Section have some responsibility for enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs or activities that receive federal funding, including educational institutions.

Protected Class

Discrimination is the unfair or unequal treatment of a person or a group because they are part of a defined group, known as a protected class. Discrimination can also occur when a school's policy is neutral on its face and is administered in an evenhanded manner but has a disparate impact—i.e., a disproportionate and unjustified effect—on students of a particular protected class.

Protected class refers to a group of people who share common characteristics, and who are protected from discrimination and harassment under federal and state laws. In Washington, discrimination based on these protected classes is prohibited.

  • Sex

  • Race and color

  • Religion and creed

  • National origin

  • Sexual orientation

  • Gender identity and gender expression

  • Disability and the use of a trained guide dog or service animal

  • Honorably discharged veteran or military status

Race, Color, and National Origin Discrimination

Discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin is prohibited by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  This includes discrimination based on a person’s limited English proficiency or English learner status; and actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, including membership in a religion that may be perceived to exhibit such characteristics (such as Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh individuals).

Discrimination on the basis of sex is prohibited by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.  This includes discrimination based on pregnancy, parental status, and sex stereotypes (such as treating persons differently because they do not conform to sex-role expectations or because they are attracted to or are in relationships with persons of the same sex).

Disability Discrimination

Discrimination against persons with disabilities is prohibited by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities, whether or not they receive federal financial assistance).  This includes discrimination against individuals currently without an impairment that substantially limits of a major life activity, but who have a record of or are regarded as having a disability.

Examples of the types of discrimination prohibited include inequitable access to educational programs and facilities, denial of a free appropriate public education for elementary and secondary students, and refusal to implement or inappropriate implementation of academic adjustments in higher education. The regulations for Section 504 and Title II are enforced by OCR and appear in the Code of Federal Regulations here: Section 504 and Title II of the ADA.

Age Discrimination

Discrimination on the basis of age is prohibited by Age Discrimination Act of 1975. These civil rights laws extend to all state education agencies, elementary and secondary school systems, colleges and universities, vocational schools, proprietary schools, state vocational rehabilitation agencies, libraries and museums that receive federal financial assistance from ED. These include all public schools and most public and private colleges and universities.

Discriminatory Discipline

In many educational institutions, students of color are disciplined more harshly and more frequently than other students, resulting in serious, negative educational consequences, particularly when such students are excluded from school. Although discipline decisions are inherently context-specific decisions about classroom management and school culture, a district’s discipline policies, procedures, and practices must comply with the non-discrimination requirements of Title VI.

School Responses to Discriminatory Harassment

School staff must investigate possible discriminatory harassment—as soon as they know or reasonably should know—even if a parent or student does not file a complaint or ask the school to get involved. This investigation must be thorough, fair, and impartial. School staff also need to take steps to protect students when necessary, even before any investigation is complete.

If an investigation reveals that harassing conduct created a hostile environment, staff must act quickly to stop the behavior and put an end to the hostile environment.

The school must:

  1. Address any effects discriminatory harassment had on the student at school, AND

  2. Make sure that harassing conduct does not happen again.


The school must protect students and parents from retaliation by other students or school employees because they communicated concerns about discriminatory harassment, filed a complaint, or participated in an investigation happen again.

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How to file a

discrimination complaint, 2010

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Indian education special education services


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Guidance for avoiding discipline discrimination 2014

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Discrimination in Athletic Programs


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Better use of information can help address racial discrimination, 2016

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COVID-19 and protecting civil rights


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