On Aug. 24, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released a Dear Colleague Letter on Race and School Programming to guide schools on lawful programs to promote racially inclusive school communities. This resource clarifies the circumstances under which schools can – consistent with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its implementing regulations – develop curricula and programs or engage in activities that promote racially inclusive school communities.
Title VI, a law enforced by OCR, prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance, including public schools serving students in pre-K through grade 12 and colleges and universities.
“Today’s resource shares with school communities practical guidance about whether and when federal civil rights laws permit – and in some cases require – schools to take actions related to race, as well as whether and when these same laws may require that schools not act based on race,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon. “This resource aims to assist our nation’s schools to fulfill Congress’ longstanding promise that no student experience discrimination based on race.”
The Dear Colleague Letter includes hypothetical examples to help schools assess their Title VI legal obligations and protections concerning school-sponsored curricula and programming. This resource clarifies circumstances under which schools may be in violation of Title VI when they separate students based on race or treat individual students or groups of students differently based on race. It clarifies that schools may also violate Title VI when they create, encourage, accept, tolerate, or fail to correct a racially hostile educational environment.
Additionally, the letter underscores that Title VI generally does not restrict schools from holding assemblies, meetings, focus groups, or listening sessions that relate to students’ experiences with race in their school or community. The resource also states that school-sponsored or recognized groups or programs with a special emphasis on race, such as a student club or mentorship opportunity, that are open to all students, typically do not violate Title VI simply because of a race-related theme.
This letter follows the release of a January 2023 OCR Diversity & Inclusion Activities Under Title VI fact sheet that confirmed for educators, parents, and students that diversity, equity and inclusion training and similar activities generally are consistent with Title VI.
OCR is available to provide technical assistance to institutions, organizations and members of the public that request assistance in complying with any aspect of the civil rights laws OCR enforces, including those issues addressed in the resource.
If individuals within a school community have questions or would like technical assistance, they may contact the OCR office serving their state or territory by visiting this website.