Equal Educational Opportunity
Students in New York schools are protected by federal, state, and local laws that prevent discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, religion, disability, and other categories. These laws also provide protection against bullying and require schools to take certain affirmative steps to guarantee an equal education for students with disabilities.
Federal, state and local laws protect individuals from education discrimination in different ways. Some of these laws are described below. For information on whether a specific education discrimination law applies to you, or if you believe you have been the victim of discrimination, contact the Civil Rights Bureau at (212) 416-8250.
Independent of which anti-discrimination law may apply, anyone who believes they have been the victim of discrimination should also follow the school, school district, or state board of education's internal complaint process for reporting discrimination within your school. Failure to utilize the internal complaint process may negatively affect your legal claims.
Examples of State Laws
The Attorney General has broad authority to enforce violations of state anti-discrimination laws in the educational context where there is evidence of a pattern or practice of unlawful conduct.
New York State Human Rights Law
The New York State Human Rights Law makes it illegal for non-sectarian educational institutions to deny their services to students on the basis of race, color, religion, disability, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, age or marital status, and for such institutions to allow students to be harassed on the basis of any of those characteristics. However, the Human Rights Law does not bar schools from choosing to provide single-sex education.
It is unlawful for a school to retaliate against any individual because he or she filed a complaint, opposed any unlawful practice, or testified or assisted in an investigation or proceeding.
The law has recently been ruled to apply only to private educational institutions - not public ones. However, public schools may still be held liable for wrongdoing (physical injuries, ongoing harassment) carried out by teachers and/or students on their property under different legal theories. In addition, public schools are prohibited from engaging in discrimination under the City's law (see section on New York City Human Rights Law).
For more information call the Civil Rights Bureau at (212) 416-8250 or visit the NYS Division of Human Rights at http://www.dhr.ny.gov/
The Dignity for All Students Act (DASA)
The Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), a new law in New York State, prohibits (1) harassment by employees or students on school property or at school functions and (2) discrimination against a student based on his/her actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability sexual orientation, gender or sex by school employees or students.
DASA is New York's first comprehensive statewide anti-bullying legislation and stands as a powerful tool against discrimination and harassment in public elementary and secondary schools. DASA will protect New York students while promoting increased tolerance and lessons in diversity.
Incidents of school bullying are at a nationwide high. Students experience verbal and physical harassment often because of their race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. A recent survey showed that 4 in 5 LGBT students in New York experienced verbal harassment, while 1 in 3 LGBT students experienced physical abuse because of their sexual orientation. Prior to the passage of DASA, only 1 in 5 students in New York attended a school with a comprehensive anti-bullying and harassment policy.
DASA now provides broad and meaningful protections for all students against discrimination and harassment based on a person's actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex. With the specific inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity, classes of people not protected by federal law, DASA provides important protections for LGBT youth in New York.
Among the provisions of the law, DASA requires all public schools to adopt policies to prohibit harassment and discrimination; provide copies of these new policies to students and parents; incorporate discrimination and harassment awareness and sensitivity training into instructional and counseling programs; and report incidents of discrimination and harassment on an annual basis.
If you or your child have been the victim of bullying at school, please call the Civil Rights Bureau at (212) 416-8250.
Examples of Local Laws
The Attorney General has broad authority to enforce violations of local anti-discrimination laws in the educational context where there is evidence of a pattern or practice of unlawful conduct.
New York City Human Rights Law
The New York City Human Rights law prevents educational institutions from discriminating because of the actual or perceived race, creed, color, national origin, age, gender, disability, marital status, partnership status, sexual orientation or alienage or citizenship status of a student. The law does not bar private schools from choosing to educate only a single sex. It applies to both public and private schools. For more information call the Civil Rights Bureau at (212) 416-8250 or visit the NYC Commission on Human Rights at http://www.nyc.gov/html/cchr/home.html
Examples of Federal Laws
The Attorney General has broad authority to enforce violations of federal anti-discrimination laws in the educational context where there is evidence of a pattern or practice of unlawful conduct.
Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA)
The Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 prohibits discrimination against faculty, staff, and students, including racial segregation of students, and requires school districts to take action to overcome barriers to students’ equal participation.
The EEOA states that no U.S. state can deny equal educational opportunity to any person on the basis of gender, race, color, or nationality through intentional segregation by an educational institution; neglecting to resolve intentional segregation; by forced assignment of a student to a school, other than the one closest to his or her place of residence, that promotes further segregation; by discrimination in determining faculty and staff; by purposely transferring a student to another school to increase segregation; or by failing to take appropriate action to overcome language barriers preventing students from being able to equally participating in English classes.
The EEOA may be enforced by private individuals who believe they have been denied equal education by filing a lawsuit in federal court and is also enforceable by the federal Department of Justice. For more information call the Civil Rights Bureau at (212) 416-8250.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars educational institutions that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of race or national origin. This law bars discrimination in admissions, recruitment, financial aid, academic programs, student treatment and services, counseling and guidance, discipline, classroom assignment, grading, vocational education, recreation, physical education, athletics, housing and employment, among other aspects of the educational system. It also requires schools that receive federal funding to provide language assistance services to its students who are Limited English Proficient (LEP).
Some violations of this law may be enforced by a private individual filing a lawsuit in court while other violations are enforceable only by the federal government through its Department of Justice. For more information call the Civil Rights Bureau at (212) 416-8250 or visit the Department of Justice website at http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/edu/.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
Title IX prohibits educational institutions that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex. The law addresses both discrimination and harassment, including peer-on-peer harassment as well as instances where a teacher or other school employee harasses a student. It also guarantees equal athletic participation to students regardless of sex, and may be used to target harassment based on a student's failure to conform to gender stereotypes.
Title IX may be enforced by a private individual filing a lawsuit in court and is also enforceable by the federal Department of Justice. For more information call the Civil Rights Bureau at (212) 416-8250.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Both Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") prohibit various kinds of educational institutions from discriminating against individuals with disabilities, including learning disabilities, and requires schools to make reasonable accommodations to meet the needs of students with disabilities. Title II addresses public schools, while Title III applies to private schools.
The ADA may be enforced by a private individual filing a lawsuit in court and is also enforceable by the federal Department of Justice. For more information call the Civil Rights Bureau at (212) 416-8250.
The Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA)
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) requires that states that receive funding under the Act provide all children with disabilities with a Free Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”), that an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) be developed for every child with a disability to be educated by the state, and that children with disabilities be educated in the least restrictive environment (“LRE”) possible, meaning that children with special needs must be educated “to the maximum extent appropriate” in classes with children with general needs. IDEA also requires state and local agencies to provide evaluations of a child's disability (with parental consent), both initially before providing special education services, and at least every three years thereafter.
IDEA is enforced by the United States Department of Education and can also be enforced by private individuals through a complaint process with the New York State Education Department, starting with a request to your local board or department of education for mediation or an impartial hearing. For more information call the Civil Rights Bureau at (212) 416-8250 or visit the federal Department of Education website at http://idea.ed.gov/ or the New York State Education Department website at http://www.p12.nysed.gov/specialed/idea/.