Last Updated on August 9, 2023 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995
When a student is treated differently by a public school or college due to race, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, age or another protected category, a discrimination complaint may be warranted. In fact, it may be imperative.
If initial reports to a school or college do not result in quick action, an outside agency may even need to be brought in, to stop the illegal student discrimination.
What Circumstances Warrant A Student Discrimination Complaint?
Before filing a complaint, the context and what happened have to be evaluated to see if student discrimination could have occurred. This is not always an easy question to answer, but parents and students can look at the facts to see if they think something could be awry.
For example, has a student been excluded from activities, such as a class trip, based on disability-related conduct (e.g. seizures, hearing impairment, grades slipping, etc.)? Have students of different races been treated differently in the exact same situation, for no legitimate reason?
Or, did school staff make some form of racial slur against a parent or student based on their race or national origin? Was a college student removed from a university program, such as an internship, due to age? Are non-English speaking parents being denied translated documents?
This type of conduct may warrant a filing and investigation.
Where and When To File A School Discrimination Complaint
There are options when filing a discrimination complaint, but parents may have to pick which agency to file with. The strongest agency to file with, may be within the federal government.
If a student experienced racial, disability or other discrimination within the last 180 days, the student can file a complaint with the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR). This is a great student’s rights agency which, if they accept the discrimination complaint, will step in, investigate, and hopefully help to resolve the student’s problems.
How To File With OCR
To file a student discrimination complaint, one just needs to follow the OCR procedures and submit their information. There is quite a bit of helpful information for students filing complaints as well on the OCR site.
It is important that the complaint be drafted in a way that really convinces OCR that discrimination could exist. As such, what a parent submits must be persuasive.
Discrimination Filings After 180 Days
If the matter occurred beyond 180 days, a parent or student may still be able to file, but will have to justify the lateness of the filing to OCR.
When Should A Student Discrimination Complaint Be Considered?
When things are going wrong at a school or college, a student or parent should consider if there may be an improper motive for the treatment, and if they can prove it. If so, and if initial discussions with a school go nowhere, they may want to consider filing.
As parents and students have to show the discriminatory conduct in their initial complaint for OCR to accept it, part of the consideration of whether to file or not is what evidence the parent can obtain. Are there reliable witnesses who will say what really happened? Are there pictures or documents showing the conduct? Convincing proof needs to be included in the initial discrimination complaint filing to ensure OCR takes it.
If more students and parents filed, schools would improve for all.
Is There A Filing Fee?
There is no charge to file the student discrimination complaint with OCR.
Filing with OCR Has No Relation to Any Court Case
Filing a student discrimination complaint with OCR should not impact any potential court case or timelines that may exist for that filing.
An OCR complaint is administrative (involving government agencies and their intervention) and is not a prerequisite to filing a case in court.
If a student does not like the decision OCR makes, they may appeal it.
Other Places Where Discrimination Complaints Can Be Filed?
There are other places where discrimination complaints can be filed, including with the school district itself, a local grand jury, or the United States Department of Justice.
With administrative complaints, however, usually a parent has to pick one agency where they will file, as they may not get two chances.
In other words, if a parent files a complaint in a school district and does not like the outcome, they cannot just jump over to OCR for them to take a new filing. OCR will usually not take a new complaint if another agency has already investigated it, except under certain limited circumstances.
Student lawyer and advocate Michelle Ball assists parents and students to stop discrimination in schools and colleges and to file complaints with the Office for Civil Rights. As a student attorney in Sacramento California, Michelle Ball can assist students across California, in places such as Napa, Roseville, Auburn, Fair Oaks, Fairfield, Newcastle, Auburn, Bakersfield, Anaheim, Huntington Beach, and other cities.
Originally published February 5, 2011