Where Should A School Discrimination Complaint Be Filed?


Last Updated on July 28, 2022 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 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?

First, the California Department of Education (CDE) does NOT take discrimination complaints directly and only looks at them on appeal from a public school.  

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.  

Child drawing a picture whose parent may file a school discrimination complaint after being harassed for his race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and disability.
Students can be victims of education discrimination and the government may investigate the matter and help resolve it.

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.

Student discrimination lawyer Michelle Ball helps families with OCR filings, school investigations, complaints and resolution of school troubles. As a Sacramento based education attorney, Michelle may get involved throughout California, from Crescent City and Tulelake to Alturas to Brawley, Stockton, Auburn, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other locations.