Last Updated on March 30, 2021 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
When a parent or student experiences discrimination in the school system, they can seek help by filing a complaint with a government agency. Which agency they pick to investigate the school discrimination will impact the outcome. Should they pick the federal government, like the U.S. Department of Education, to review the school’s wrongful or harassing conduct, or should the education discrimination matter be filed with the local school or college?
Main Places to File A School Discrimination Complaint
There are some primary places to file a request for review of a school discrimination matter (excluding any court filings∗∗), one being the school or college itself, and the other being a government entity.
For a private school student, in a school which takes no federal money and is non-religious, parents and students may be able to go to the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ). The DOJ will then determine if they may accept the matter for investigation. A parent or student may also pursue internal filings in their private school, if available.
For public school students or students in a college or entity which takes federal funds, the choice is usually between filing a request for investigation with the school or college or the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), in the United States Department of Education (USDOE).
Where the Student Files Matters
Why is where a student filed a school discrimination complaint a choice?
Second, if a student files with their school or college, and the school or college says there was no discrimination, OCR will not usually review the school discrimination complaint other than the process. This means OCR won’t review the substance of the alleged discriminatory conduct if a parent or student already filed with their school or college and the matter was concluded (in their favor or not).
So, students and parents have to decide at the get-go where to file a request for an investigation, and it is an important determination.
Why Filing With OCR May Be Better
My personal preference is OCR, as OCR tends to be more objective, is not afraid to find discrimination occurred (as it is not their school!), has more resources, and truly aims to get a resolution in most cases.
How motivated do you think a school district is to find discrimination occurred in one of its own schools or by one of its staff?
This is why OCR may be the better place to start with school discrimination.
There is never any guarantee OCR will find actual education discrimination, but it seems more likely. OCR should pursue the school discrimination investigation more objectively and may have fairer results.
The government purse can be leveraged against schools by OCR to obtain correction of wrongs and justice for students.
OCR does not accept all school discrimination complaints for investigation. As such, it is important for a parent or student to write the initial filing properly, file it timely, and attach any evidence which supports the claims
**Administrative filings are separate and distinct from claims students may file in court. I am in no way reviewing those matters here.
Education Attorney for Students
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Please see my disclaimer. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting. This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.