U.S. Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Department of Education, Catherine Lhamon, recently issued a “Dear Colleague” letter to states, school districts and schools to ensure that students have equal access to educational resources. The guidance, issued by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), on October 1, provides detailed and concrete information to educators on the legal obligations of school districts under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. While this letter does not add new legal requirements to those currently existing, it provides information about how OCR evaluates whether school districts are complying with their Title VI legal obligations.  Specifically, OCR clarifies that it will consider whether students have equal access to the following resources when analyzing a Title VI complaint:

  • Courses, academic programs and extracurricular activities
  • Qualified and trained teachers, administrators and other school personnel
  • School facilities
  • Technology and instructional materials

OCR offers the following steps to ensure compliance with equal access:

  • Designate an employee to coordinate Title VI compliance
  • Evaluate resources across and within schools; prioritize resources for schools and students most in need
  • Notify parents, students and community members of avenues to raise resource access concerns
  • Take proactive steps to identify disparities

As noted in the letter, school districts must not intentionally treat students differently based on race, color or national origin in providing resources. Additionally, they must not implement policies or practices for the provision of educational resources that disproportionately affect students of a particular race, color or national origin in providing educational resources. The law, however, does not require that all students receive the exact same resources to have an equal access to an education, but it does require equal access to comparable resources based on educational needs. This most recent Departmental guidance builds upon the resource equity guidance issued by the Department in 2001, as well as drawing upon many of the findings published in the Equity and Excellence Commission’s 2012 report, “For Each and Every Child.” School districts should proactively assess their Title VI compliance in light of this recent guidance from the Department of Education, as OCR is actively turning its attention to the ongoing issue of student recourse inequity.