U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights emphasizes schools’ duty to combat discrimination related to ancestry and ethnicity

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education (Department) has issued a Dear Colleague Letter to schools outlining how Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to claims of discrimination in educational settings related to common ancestry or ethnic traits. This guidance includes instances of alleged discrimination against individuals who are or are perceived to be Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab, Sikh, South Asian, Hindu, or Palestinian.

President Biden will address concerns about antisemitism during the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Days of Remembrance event today, coinciding with the release of the Dear Colleague Letter.

“The reports of antisemitic and anti-Muslim incidents in our schools and communities are deeply troubling. Ensuring students’ safety is paramount,” stated U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. The Department vows to investigate and address any discriminatory practices impacting students and reminds schools of their obligation to enforce Title IV.

This communication forms part of a series of recent directives addressing discrimination and is an integral element of the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to combat both antisemitism and Islamophobia, along with related forms of bias and discrimination. Secretary Cardona previously reached out to college and university leaders offering support amidst a rise in antisemitism and campus demonstrations.

The letter details the legal benchmarks utilized by OCR to ascertain the presence of discrimination and offers specific examples of behaviors that could contravene Title VI and its associated regulations.

Schools that benefit from federal funding must address discrimination against students of diverse backgrounds, including those listed, in cases involving racial, ethnic, or ancestral slurs, stereotypes, skin color, physical characteristics, or attire reflecting religious and cultural practices. Discrimination based on a student’s origin or accent is also deemed unacceptable.

“This resource aids school communities in promoting equality in education and creating a welcoming environment devoid of stereotypes or biases,” noted Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon.

In addition to the current missive, OCR has issued additional support materials to assist schools in upholding their obligations under Title VI. These resources encompass directives regarding discrimination against Jewish and Muslim, Arab, Sikh, South Asian, Hindu, and Palestinian students, along with factsheets on preventing bias related to shared ancestry or ethnic traits.

  • Dear Colleague Letter: Addressing Discrimination Against Jewish Students.
  • Dear Colleague Letter on Addressing Discrimination Against Muslim, Arab, Sikh, South Asian, Hindu, and Palestinian Students.
  • Dear Colleague Letter: Discrimination, including Harassment, Based on Shared Ancestry or Ethnic Characteristics Fact Sheet Protecting Students from Discrimination Based on Shared Ancestry or Ethnic Characteristics.

These resources are accessible on OCR’s website under the Shared Ancestry or Ethnic Characteristics section. Information on resolved complaints under Title VI, including those related to shared ancestry or ethnic traits, is also provided.

Individuals suspecting discrimination against a student based on race, color, or national origin can report their concerns to OCR. Complaints can be lodged by visiting https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaintintro.html. OCR offers technical support on the application of Title VI to issues of race, color, or national origin; assistance requests can be directed to OCR@ed.gov.

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