Are You a Legal Professional?

Discrimination at School

Discrimination on the basis of one's race, gender, disability, or other protected characteristic is prohibited in education. Most public schools are considered extensions of the government, since they're run by states and usually receive funding from the federal government. Discrimination can occur in admission and enrollment; discipline; assignments; financial aid; and other areas. Private schools that do not receive federal funding (some do) are free to discriminate in admission and enrollment, except in the area of race. But even some states that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, including California, don't extend these protections to schools. Sexual harassment is also a form of discrimination, since it discriminates against

Some types of discrimination are seen as benign or even in the interest of advancing equality, such as busing predominantly black inner-city students to suburban schools. Also, many private and religious schools are single-gendered, which provide a better learning environment for some students.

Overview of Racial Discrimination in Education

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1954 (Brown v. Board of Education) that the segregation of public schools was unconstitutional, although it would take further action to enforce this ruling. In particular, the Arkansas governor ignored a 1957 federal court order to integrate the schools, instead sending Arkansas National Guard troops to block black students from entering one of the schools. In response, President Eisenhower federalized the National Guard and sent additional Army troops to protect the children attempting to enter the school.

Additional struggles against the Court's Brown ruling ensued throughout the deep South, including at the university level. It reached another flash point in 1962, when an angry mob attacked federal troops who were sent to protect the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi.

The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title IV, specifically) codified the federal prohibition against racial discrimination in public education. But struggles to realize equality remain to this day.

Desegregation and Busing

While racial segregation in the American South was mandated by law before the reforms of the 1950s and 1960s, segregation in Northern states was maintained by socioeconomic factors (separate neighborhoods, in other words). In the early 1970s, several U.S. Supreme Court cases finding racial inequalities in education mandated the use of busing as a solution. Busing involves the transport of inner-city students (predominantly black) to the more-affluent suburban schools, since inner-city schools were suffering from a decreasing tax base.

Another solution was to create what are known as "magnet" schools, so named because of their focus on attracting people with similar interests but across many different communities. But they primarily served as a complement to busing, with the intent of drawing suburban (predominantly white) students into the cities to integrate with minority students.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is considered a form of sexual discrimination, which is prohibited federally under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Specifically, Title IX was interpreted to include sexual harassment after a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The act of sexual harassment is defined as "repetitive, unwanted sexual advances," for which the school district is liable if it fails to take action against such instances involving students.

Click on a link below to learn more about sexual harassment and discrimination in an educational setting.