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Discrimination in Education

Various federal laws prohibit discrimination in the realm of education on the basis of race, gender, age, national origin, and other protected categories. Federal laws that ban education discrimination include Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and various other statutes. While these federal laws apply only to schools that accept federal funding, this includes the vast majority of K-12 and higher education institutions.

FindLaw's Discrimination in Education section provides a general overview of these federal laws and applies them to real-life situations. Articles cover such as issues as the rights of limited-English proficient students and how to file a complaint for alleged education discrimination.

What Constitutes Education Discrimination?

There are a number of ways an individual may be discriminated against in an educational setting, mostly centering on the issue of inclusion or parity among the various protected classes. For instance, schools may not deny enrollment to members of a particular race; must be accessible to students with disabilities; and must provide equal opportunities to both genders, including athletic participation.

Education Discrimination: Key Federal Laws

As with most laws protecting the rights of historically marginalized individuals, discrimination in education has been chipped away through an incremental succession of laws. While some of these laws address overt discrimination, others address and try to fix inequities inherent in the system.

Below are brief summaries of the main federal laws prohibiting discrimination in educational institutions receiving federal funds:

  • Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin
  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972: Commonly referred to as simply "Title IX," this law prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender (addressing such as issues as harassment and participation in athletic programs)
  • Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974: Requires schools to take "appropriate action" to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation by students, among other protections
  • Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990: Prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities (including provision of special education services, accessibility, and availability of auxiliary aids for impaired students)
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: Requires free access to public education to children with special needs, requiring an individualized education for each student with special needs

Filing an Education Discrimination Complaint

Most of the above laws are enforced by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR). To file a complaint, submit (either in written form or online) your contact information, a general description of the discriminatory act, as well as the name and location of the educational institution. The time limit for filing a complaint is typically 180 days.

Learn About Discrimination in Education