OCR Issues Dear Colleague Letter on Ethnic Discrimination in Schools

The letter provides information on the legal analyses that OCR uses to determine whether discrimination exists, and examples of conduct that could raise concerns under Title VI.

OCR Issues Dear Colleague Letter on Ethnic Discrimination in Schools

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The U.S. Department of Education’s (Department’s) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a Dear Colleague Letter Tuesday to schools specifying with concrete examples the application of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to allegations of discrimination in schools based on shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, including discrimination against students and school community members who are or are perceived to be Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab, Sikh, South Asian, Hindu, or Palestinian.

The letter came as President Biden delivered remarks about antisemitism at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Days of Remembrance commemoration.

“I continue to be deeply concerned by the repeated reports of antisemitic and anti-Israeli, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, and anti-Palestinian harassment on our campuses and in our communities. These incidents are abhorrent, period. There is nothing more important than making sure students feel safe on campus,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “The Administration will continue to develop and provide resources and support to ensure safe, supportive school environments. The Department will investigate and address any possible discrimination that causes harm to students and we will continue to remind schools of their responsibilities to enforce Title IV.”

This Dear Colleague Letter is the latest in a series of recent guidance documents on this topic and a key component of the Biden-Harris Administration’s U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism and the forthcoming National Strategy to Counter Islamophobia and Related Forms of Bias and Discrimination. On Friday, Secretary Cardona sent a letter to all college and university presidents offering resources and guidance in the midst of increased antisemitism and widespread college protests on campus.

The letter provides information on the legal analyses that OCR uses to determine whether discrimination exists, and provides examples of conduct that, depending on facts and circumstances, could raise concerns under Title VI and its implementing regulations.

Schools that receive federal financial assistance from the Department have a legal responsibility to address discrimination against students, including Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab, Sikh, South Asian, Hindu, and Palestinian students, when the discrimination involves racial, ethnic, or ancestral slurs or stereotypes; is based on a student’s skin color, physical features, or style of dress that reflects both ethnic and religious traditions; or is based on the country or region where a student is from or is perceived to have come from, including, for example, discrimination based on a student’s accent or name, a student’s limited English proficiency, or a student speaking a language other than English.

“OCR designed this resource to help school communities know how to ensure every student has equal access to education without a hostile environment based on negative stereotypes or bias about where their families come from,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon.

Additional Title VI Resources

In addition to today’s letter, OCR has issued other resources to support schools in complying with their obligations under Title VI. These resources include:

These resources are available on the Shared Ancestry or Ethnic Characteristics page of OCR’s website. Information about recently resolved complaints under Title VI, including complaints alleging discrimination based on shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, is available here.

Anyone who believes that a school has discriminated against a student based on race, color, or national origin can file a complaint of discrimination with OCR. To file a complaint, visit https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaintintro.html.

OCR is available to provide technical assistance on the application of Title VI to discrimination based on race, color, or national origin as described in the letter released today. To request training, contact OCR at OCR@ed.gov.

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