As part of the U.S. Department of Education’s continued efforts to take aggressive action to address the alarming rise in reports of antisemitic, Islamophobic, and other hate-based or bias-based incidents at schools and on college campuses since the outbreak of the latest Israel-Hamas conflict, the department’s Office for Civil Rights released a new Dear Colleague Letter reminding schools of their legal obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to provide all students, including students who are or are perceived to be Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab, or Palestinian, a school environment free from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin.
The federal government is implementing the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, and the White House also announced last week that it will develop a national strategy to counter Islamophobia.
“Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and all other forms of hatred go against everything we stand for as a nation,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in a news release.
OCR also recently released an updated complaint form specifying that Title VI’s protection from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin extends to students who are or are perceived to be Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Sikh, or based on other shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics. This update will help individuals understand how to file a Title VI complaint.
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. The person who files the complaint does not need to have been the target of the alleged violation, but could be a family member, or faculty, staff, or any other concerned community member who is aware of possible discrimination. To file a complaint, visit this webpage.
The USDOE is available to provide technical assistance webinars on the application of Title VI to discrimination based on race, color, or national origin as described in the Dear Colleague Letter. To request such a training, please contact OCR via email.
Title VI’s protection from race, color, or national origin discrimination extends to students who experience discrimination, including harassment, based on their actual or perceived: (i) shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics; or (ii) citizenship or residency in a country with a dominant religion or distinct religious identity. Schools that receive federal financial assistance have a responsibility to address discrimination when the discrimination involves racial, ethnic, or ancestral slurs or stereotypes; when the discrimination is based on a student’s skin color, physical features, or style of dress that reflects both ethnic and religious traditions, to name a few characteristics. Likewise, schools have a responsibility to address discrimination against students based on the region of the world they come from or are perceived to come from.
The newly released documents are among several resources released by OCR to support schools in complying with their obligations under Title VI to address discrimination based on race, color, or national origin, including shared ancestry and ethnic characteristics. Additional resources in this area include a fact sheet, Protecting Students from Discrimination Based on Shared Ancestry or Ethnic Characteristics, released in January 2023, and a Dear Colleague Letter issued in May 2023 as part of the USDOE’s launch of an antisemitism awareness campaign. 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.