U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Reiterates Schools’ Duty to Address Discrimination Against Muslim, Arab, Sikh, South Asian, Hindu, and Palestinian Students

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has underscored schools’ duties in addressing discrimination against Muslim, Arab, Sikh, South Asian, Hindu, and Palestinian students.

This reminder, conveyed in a Dear Colleague Letter, forms part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s upcoming National Strategy to Counter Islamophobia and Similar Forms of Bias and Discrimination. It precedes the International Day to Combat Islamophobia on Friday, March 15.

“I am troubled by the rising instances of anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, and anti-Palestinian mistreatment in educational settings,” stated U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “Hate must not find a place in our schools or colleges, and the Department remains dedicated to equipping school communities with the necessary guidance and resources to prevent and address Islamophobia and related discrimination.”

The letter serves as a reminder to schools of their mandated compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) and its regulations to create a discrimination-free educational atmosphere based on race, color, or national origin, which includes shared ancestry or ethnic traits.

Moreover, it delineates that schools benefitting from federal financial aid from the Department have an obligation to combat discrimination against students, particularly Muslim, Arab, Sikh, South Asian, Hindu, and Palestinian students, in cases where discrimination involves racial or ethnic slurs, is rooted in a student’s physical features, dress reflecting ethnic and religious customs, or originates from the student’s country or region of origin or perceived origin.

“OCR remains committed to upholding the principles of Title VI to ensure every student, regardless of their background, has unbiased access to educational opportunities,” affirmed Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon.

Through this letter release, the Department continues its efforts toward advancing the Biden-Harris Administration’s National Strategy to Counter Islamophobia and Related Bias and Discrimination. To enhance student safety, the Department issued a fact sheet in November and engaged in visitations and discussions with impacted communities.

In addition to the recent letter, OCR has provided various resources to assist schools in meeting their Title VI obligations. Some of these resources include:

  • Dear Colleague Letter: Discrimination, including Harassment, Based on Shared Ancestry or Ethnic Characteristics (November 2023);
  • Fact Sheet Protecting Students from Discrimination Based on Shared Ancestry or Ethnic Characteristics (January 2023);
  • Dear Colleague Letter: Addressing Discrimination Against Jewish Students (May 2023), issued as part of the Department’s Antisemitism Awareness Campaign launch.

These resources can be accessed on the Shared Ancestry or Ethnic Characteristics page of OCR’s website. Information detailing resolved complaints under Title VI, including those based on shared ancestry or ethnic traits, is also available.

Individuals suspecting discriminatory acts against a student in terms of race, color, or national origin by a school can lodge a discrimination complaint with OCR. To initiate a complaint, visit https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaintintro.html. OCR offers technical assistance concerning Title VI application to race, color, or national origin-based discrimination addressed in today’s released letter. For training requests, reach out to OCR at OCR@ed.gov.

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