Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §2000(d) et seq, prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. School districts that receive federal funds must not intentionally discriminate on the basis of race, color or national origin, and must not implement facially neutral policies that have the unjustified effect of discriminating against students on these bases. The United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is charged with enforcing Title VI.
On October 1, 2014, OCR issued a “Dear Colleague Letter.” Such letters offer significant guidance to schools and often forecast the areas in which OCR will be focusing its investigations, so it is important for schools to pay attention. OCR’s stated purpose in issuing this letter was “to call your attention to disparities that persist in access to educational resources, and to help you address those disparities and comply with the legal obligation to provide students with equal access to these resources without regard to race, color or national origin.”
OCR pointed out that equal educational opportunity requires that all students, regardless of race, color or national origin, have comparable access to the diverse range of courses, programs and extra-curricular activities - including the quality of teachers and instruction; the stability of the teacher workforce, its qualifications and experience; school leadership, such as principals; and support staff, such as para-professionals. The letter also indicated that investigations will focus on the condition of facilities; the quantity and quality of specialized spaces, such as laboratories, auditoriums and athletic facilities; and the access to technology and instructional materials.
The Dear Colleague Letter also urges school districts to assign a person to have oversight of compliance with Title VI, such as is required for Title IX, and urges schools to participate in self-assessment and monitoring of compliance.
As with other Dear Colleague Letters that have recently been issued by OCR, school districts should review their policies, procedures and processes to ensure no disparity exists in the area of educational resources.