U.S. Department of Education Urges Schools to Address Discrimination and Harassment

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has issued a new Dear Colleague Letter to remind schools of their legal obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is in response to the alarming increase in reports of antisemitic, Islamophobic, and other hate-based incidents on school and college campuses following the Israel-Hamas conflict in October 7th. The goal is to provide a discrimination-free school environment for all students, regardless of their race, color, or national origin, including those who are or are perceived to be Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab, or Palestinian.

The Biden-Harris Administration is taking steps to counter antisemitism and Islamophobia through the implementation of a U.S. National Strategy and has emphasized the need for a safe and inclusive campus community where all students can learn freely. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona emphasizes the importance of upholding the civil rights of students of diverse backgrounds and condemns all forms of hatred and violence.

This announcement follows Secretary Cardona’s and White House Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden’s visit to the Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University, where they engaged in a roundtable discussion with Jewish students from various Baltimore-area universities. The Department has been conducting site visits across the country as part of its Antisemitism Awareness Campaign to address and learn about antisemitism on campuses.

OCR has also made updates to the complaint form, specifying that the protection against discrimination under Title VI extends to students who are or are perceived to be Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Sikh. This update aims to assist individuals in understanding how to file a Title VI complaint.

If anyone believes that a school has discriminated against a student based on race, color, or national origin, they can file a complaint with OCR. The person filing the complaint does not need to be the target of the alleged violation; it can be a family member, faculty, staff, or any other concerned community member. The Department is also available to provide technical assistance webinars on the application of Title VI to discrimination cases.

Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon urges school communities to be vigilant in protecting their students’ rights and emphasizes that all students, regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds, have the right to learn without discrimination. Title VI’s protection extends to students who experience discrimination, including harassment, based on their shared ancestry, ethnic characteristics, citizenship, residency, or regional origin.

These newly released documents are part of OCR’s efforts to support schools in complying with Title VI and addressing discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. Additional resources, such as a fact sheet and a previous Dear Colleague Letter, are available on OCR’s website. Information about recently resolved complaints is also provided.

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