OCR Issues New Guidance Regarding Obligations to Provide Equal Access to Educational Resources for All Students

Lozano Smith Client News Brief
November 2014
Number 90

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a "Dear Colleague" letter, on October 1, 2014, which provides guidance to school districts on allocating scarce financial resources without discriminating against students on the basis of race, color, or national origin. While "Dear Colleague" letters are non-binding, they telegraph details regarding expectations and enforcement of federal laws by the OCR.

Title VI of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. The law applies to the operations of every state, school district, and public school in the country that receive federal funding. Title VI prohibits states, school districts, and schools from intentionally treating students differently by providing educational resources based on race, color, or national origin. The Letter emphasizes OCR's intent and authority to review disparities under Title VI in a range of areas, including:
  • Equal access to educational opportunities, such as Advanced Placement (AP) courses, gifted and talented programs, college-prepatory programs, and extra-curricular activities;

  • Equal access to qualified teachers and school leaders, as measured by factors such as turnover, absenteeism, professional development, and whether the teacher is leading a subject in which he or she holds a degree;

  • Equal access to a fair share of qualified support staff, such as school psychologists, guidance counselors, and paraprofessionals;

  • Equal access to school facilities, as evaluated by factors such as overcrowding, lighting, and accessibility for students with disabilities, as well as the quality of athletic facilities and science labs; and

  • Equal access to technology, including laptops, tablets, the internet, and instructional materials, such as calculators and library books.

In investigating inequitable resource distribution, the Letter indicates that OCR will consider whether states and school districts are actively working to resolve discrepancies in such distribution. The Letter encourages state, district and school leaders to thoroughly examine their available resources and immediately take steps to resolve any discrepancies in resource distribution. This process should focus on enhancing the learning opportunities and experiences of students with the greatest need. States, districts and schools are additionally encouraged to review their statistical reports related to resource equity, as well as the information contained in OCR's database.

For additional information regarding the OCR's October 1, 2014 Dear Colleague letter, Title VI and other laws prohibiting discrimination, or specifically on non-discriminatory resource allocation, please contact one of our eight offices located statewide. You can also visit our website, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or download our Client News Brief App.

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As the information contained herein is necessarily general, its application to a particular set of facts and circumstances may vary. For this reason, this News Brief does not constitute legal advice. We recommend that you consult with your counsel prior to acting on the information contained herein.