Are You a Legal Professional?

Race Discrimination in Education

Under federal law, race discrimination in education is prohibited by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI protects people from discrimination based on race, color or national origin in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. Title VI states that:

    No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

Virtually all public school districts are covered by Title VI because they receive some federal financial assistance. Public colleges and universities generally receive federal financial assistance, and most private colleges and universities receive such assistance. There are some private colleges that do not receive any federal assistance, and Title VI does not apply to them.

Education Programs and Services Subject to Title VI

Schools and colleges that receive federal funds must operate without discriminating when it comes to race, color, and national origin. Educational programs and services that must be operated and provided in a non-discriminatory manner include, but are not limited to:

  • Admissions
  • Recruitment
  • Financial aid
  • Academic programs
  • Student treatment and services
  • Counseling and guidance
  • Discipline
  • Classroom assignment
  • Grading
  • Vocational education
  • Recreation
  • Physical education
  • Athletics
  • Housing

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for enforcing Title VI as it applies to programs and activities that receive federal funds. OCR's principal enforcement activity is the investigation and resolution of complaints filed by people alleging discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin. OCR has investigated and resolved many kinds of civil rights problems, including the following:

  • The failure of some school districts to provide equal educational opportunity for national origin minority students who have a limited proficiency in English.
  • The maintenance by some state systems of higher education of separate college facilities for students based on their race, color or national origin.
  • The discriminatory assignment of minority students to classes designed for students who are mentally retarded.

How to File a Discrimination Complaint with OCR

Anyone who believes there has been an act of discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin, against any person or group, in a program or activity that receives federal financial assistance, may file a complaint with OCR under Title VI. The person or organization filing the complaint need not be a victim of the alleged discrimination but may complain on behalf of another person or group. A complaint should be sent to the OCR regional office that serves the state in which the alleged discrimination occurred. A complaint must be filed within 180 days of the date of the alleged discrimination unless the time for filing is extended for good cause by the Regional Civil Rights Director. If you have also filed a complaint under an institutional grievance process, see the time limit.

Complaint letters should explain who was discriminated against; in what way; by whom or by what institution or agency; when the discrimination took place; who was harmed; who can be contacted for further information; the name, address and telephone number of the complainant(s) and the alleged offending institution or agency; and as much background information as possible about the alleged discriminatory act(s).

If an investigation indicates there has been a violation of Title VI, OCR attempts to obtain voluntary compliance. If it cannot obtain voluntary compliance, OCR will initiate enforcement action, either by referring the case to the Department of Justice for court action, or by initiating proceedings, before an administrative law judge, to terminate Federal funding to the recipient's program or activity in which the prohibited discrimination occurred. Terminations are made only after the recipient has had an opportunity for a hearing before an administrative law judge, and after all other appeals have been exhausted.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified civil rights attorney
to help you protect your rights.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution