Beneath the title of each case summary below are links that connect to lists of similar cases sorted by topic areas relevant to each case by protected class. Links within each case summary connect to important case documents including complaints, briefs, settlement agreements, consent decrees, orders, and press releases.
*Please note that most of these files are in .pdf format only. If you need an accessible format because of disability, please contact the Educational Opportunities Section at (202) 514-4092 to receive the material in a format that is accessible.
A.B. v. Rhinebeck Central School District & Thomas Mawhinney
On March 18, 2004, the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York and the Section moved to intervene in A.B. v. Rhinebeck Central School District and Thomas Mawhinney, a sexual harassment case brought against the Rhinebeck Central School District and the former high school principal Thomas Mawhinney. The case was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on May 9, 2003, by four current and former high school students and a school employee. The plaintiffs alleged that the school district and Mawhinney violated state and federal laws, including Title IX. The United States filed an intervention brief and complaint-in-intervention alleging that Mawhinney sexually harassed the four plaintiff students as well as other female high school students during his ten-year tenure as principal and that the school district violated Title IX by acting with deliberate indifference to known sexual harassment of these students. The district opposed the United States' intervention, and the United States filed a reply. On August 25, 2004, the court granted the United States' intervention motion.
On March 22, 2006, the court approved a consent decree that requires the district to develop and implement a comprehensive plan that will ensure a discrimination-free educational environment for all students. The district must retain an expert regarding sexual harassment training and prevention to assist in developing the comprehensive plan, to evaluate the district's sexual harassment policies, to conduct a school climate assessment, and to develop a mandatory training program. The consent decree also requires the district to educate school board members and employees regarding how to respond to sexual harassment complaints. Lastly, the district must pay $152,500 to compensate the student victims and to pay their attorney's fees. On December 9, 2009, the parties informed the court that the case could be closed based on the district's implementation of the consent order.
Adams 12 Five Star School District
In this matter involving the Adams 12 Five Star School District in Colorado, the Section conducted a review to determine whether the district was providing appropriate instruction and services to English Language Learner ("ELL") students as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA). After determining that the school district was not complying with the requirements of the EEOA, the United States entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement with the school district on April 28, 2010. This agreement addressed, among other things, the school district's obligations to: ensure timely, adequate and appropriate ELL services; train ELL teachers and administrators; recruit and hire qualified staff for ELLs; provide translation services for parents and guardians; ensure ELL students are appropriately evaluated for special education and receive dual services when eligible; provide adequate and appropriate materials for ELL classes; monitor current and exited ELLs; and evaluate its ELL programs adequately.
Anderson and United States v. Madison County School District
In this longstanding school desegregation case, the Section and a class of black plaintiffs opposed the school district's proposal, among other things, to build five new schools. The Section contended that the district's proposal would not further desegregation of the district's schools, would not afford black students equal educational opportunities, and would impose disproportionate transportation burdens on black students. The school district's transportation records showed, for example, that some black high-school students were required to ride a bus up to nearly two and one-half hours each way to and from school, while white students were bussed no longer than forty-five minutes to and from the same school; nonetheless, the school district proposed to build a new high school at a location that would reduce the transportation times of white students while maintaining the transportation times of black students. The Section also alleged that the school district had failed to comply with existing desegregation orders in the areas of faculty and staff hiring, assignment and compensation; transportation; facilities; and curriculum.
After a seven-day evidentiary trial in May 1999, the district court issued an order approving the school district's construction plan, but requiring the school district to address several of the matters about which we had complained. Among other things, the district court ordered the school district to take steps to reduce the transportation times to school for black students. The Section and the plaintiff class appealed from the district court's order relating to new construction. At the request of the Section and the plaintiff class, the district court entered an order "staying," or putting on hold, the school district's proposed new construction, pending a decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
While the appeal was pending, the parties entered into settlement discussions. In April 2000 the parties signed and the district court approved a consent order that both required the school district to address areas of its alleged non-compliance with federal law and resolved all but one of the issues on appeal. The remaining issue on appeal was whether the school district's proposed site for a new high school was consistent with the district's affirmative desegregation obligations. On November 6, 2000, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's ruling that allowed construction of the new high school to proceed at the contested location. In December 2000, the district court entered an order establishing a bi-racial advisory committee.
Arcadia Unified School District
On July 24, 2013, the Section and the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights entered into a resolution agreement with the Arcadia Unified School District in Arcadia, Calif., to resolve an investigation into allegations of discrimination against a transgender student based on the student's sex. Under the agreement, the school district will take a number of steps to ensure that the student, whose gender identity is male and who has consistently and uniformly presented as a boy at school and in all other aspects of his life for several years, will be treated like other male students while attending school in the district. The agreement resolves a complaint filed in October 2011. As detailed in the closure letter sent to the district, the complaint alleged that the district had prohibited the student from accessing facilities consistent with his male gender identity at school and on a school-sponsored overnight trip because he is transgender. The United States investigated this complaint under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both Title IX and Title IV prohibit discrimination against students based on sex. Under the agreement, the district will work with a consultant to support and assist the district in creating a safe, nondiscriminatory learning environment for students who are transgender or do not conform to gender stereotypes; amend its policies and procedures to reflect that gender-based discrimination, including discrimination based on a student's gender identity, transgender status, and nonconformity with gender stereotypes, is a form of discrimination based on sex; and train administrators and faculty on preventing gender-based discrimination and creating a nondiscriminatory school environment for transgender students. Additionally, the district will take a number of steps to treat the student like all other male students in the education programs and activities offered by the district. The district-wide provisions of the agreement will be in place until the end of the 2015-2016 school year. The student-specific provisions of the agreement will be in place as long as the student is enrolled in the district. For more information, please see this press release.
Ayers and United States v. Fordice
On January 28, 1975, Mississippi was sued for maintaining an unconstitutional dual system of higher education. Plaintiffs argued that Mississippi denied equal opportunities to black students and faculty members by favoring the State's historically white colleges and universities at the expense of its historically black colleges and universities, and by failing to remove the vestiges of racial segregation in the former de jure dual system. On April 21, 1975, the Section intervened and joined the plaintiffs in seeking injunctive relief that would bring Mississippi's higher education system into conformity with constitutional and statutory provisions.
After a trial, the district court and appellate court found for the defendants, but, in 1992, the Supreme Court overturned the lower courts' decisions and remanded the case to the district court to determine if Mississippi had taken the necessary steps to ensure that a student's choice of college was indeed free and unconstrained by Mississippi's former discriminatory policies. The case marked the first time that the Supreme Court defined the applicable legal standards for higher education desegregation.
On February 15, 2002, the court entered a final judgment approving a $503 million settlement. Endorsed by the Mississippi legislature, the settlement will fund a comprehensive plan over a seventeen-year period aimed at improving academic programs, making capital improvements, and expanding summer programs at the State's historically black colleges and universities. The State also will recognize the historically black Jackson State University as a comprehensive university. The district court dismissed the case, but has retained jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement.
Barnhardt and U.S. v. Meridian Municipal School District
This longstanding desegregation case was filed in 1965 by private plaintiffs, with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and local cooperating attorneys serving as counsel. The United States intervened later that year. In 1969, the Fifth Circuit entered a desegregation order permanently enjoined the District from discriminating on the basis of race or color in the operation of the Meridian schools. In 2010, as part of efforts to enforce the desegregation order, the department began to investigate complaints that the District had implemented a harsh and punitive student discipline policy that resulted in the disproportionate suspension, expulsion, and school-based arrest of black students in Meridian schools. The department found that these kinds of disparities persisted even when the students were at the same school, were of similar ages, and had similar disciplinary histories.
At the conclusion of the investigation, the United States and the District engaged in extensive negotiations, resulting in a proposed consent decree filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on March 22, 2013. Along with the proposed consent decree, the parties jointly filed a motion to approve the decree, and the United States separately filed a memorandum of law. Under the consent decree, the district will take steps to create safe and inclusive learning environments in all Meridian schools, including providing students with supports and interventions before excluding them from school; limiting the use of discipline measures that remove students from the classroom; ensuring that discipline consequences are fair and consistent; establishing clear guidelines for when law enforcement intervention is appropriate; providing training to give teachers and administrators the tools necessary to manage their schools in a safe, effective and positive manner; and building data-driven monitoring and accountability systems. On May 30, 2013, the Court adopted the consent order.
For more information regarding the proposed consent decree, please see this press release.
Biediger, et al. v. Quinnipiac University
On June 21, 2010, the Division filed a Motion for Leave to file an amicus brief in Biediger, et al. v. Quinnipiac University. Plaintiffs allege that Quinnipiac failed to provide female students an equal opportunity to participate in varsity intercollegiate athletics, and that this failure constituted intentional sex discrimination in violation of Title IX and 34 C.F.R. § 106.41(c)(1). The plaintiffs allege that Quinnipiac misrepresented its athletic participation numbers by, among other things, requiring women’s teams to artificially increase their number of participants, resulting in some members lacking a genuine varsity athletic participation opportunity; underrepresenting the number of male athletes on teams; eliminating the women's volleyball program; and counting participants on its cheer squad as a sport under Title IX. The United States' amicus brief provided guidance as to what constitutes a genuine participation opportunity, as well as guidance concerning what constitutes a sport for Title IX compliance.
On October 1, 2010, the Section, the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education (OCR), and the Boston Public Schools (BPS) finalized a Settlement Agreement
to resolve violations of English Language Learner (ELL) students' rights under the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, 20 U.S.C. §1703(f), and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 20 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq. The Agreement grew out of the joint comprehensive investigation by the Section and OCR of BPS' ELL program. That investigation continues, but the Agreement was needed to resolve as soon as possible the fact that: 7,000 students had not been tested in reading and writing to determine if they were ELL students, many of them were entitled to ELL services, and over 4,000 known ELL students had been misidentified as having opted out of ELL programs between 2003 and 2009. Under the Agreement, the more than 4,000 misidentified "opt out" students will have ELL and compensatory services made available to them, and approximately 4,300 of the 7,000 students who were improperly identified as non-ELL students will, for the first time, be offered ELL and compensatory services. The Agreement further requires BPS to provide all ELL students with English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction by ESL certified teachers and Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) content classes by teachers certified in their content areas who also have either an ESL certification or training in the categories identified by the state as qualifying teachers to instruct SEI classes. To meet these instructional requirements, the Agreement requires BPS to train and hire sufficient numbers of qualified ESL and SEI teachers. For more information, please see this press release
Bound Brook Board of Education
In this matter involving the Bound Brook New Jersey School District, the Section reviewed whether the district was providing appropriate instruction and services to English Language Learners (ELLs) as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA). Based on its review of the district, the Section raised concerns about, among other things: the school district's procedures for screening new students to determine whether they are ELLs; ELLs' access to basic skills instruction, special education services, and academic enrichment programs; the opportunities that ELLs have to integrate with native speakers of English in a school setting; and monitoring of students currently enrolled in the ELL program and those students who have exited from the program. The school district and the Section engaged in good-faith negotiations about these and other issues and on October 16, 2003, entered into a settlement agreement outlining the measures that the school district was required to take to ensure its compliance with the EEOA. The agreement required the district to provide, among other things: timely assessment of all students with non-English speaking backgrounds; quality curricula and instruction for ELLs; adequate teacher training; and careful monitoring and reporting on the academic progress of current and former ELLs. After the district compiled in good faith with the settlement agreement, the agreement ended on January 12, 2007.
Campbell v. St. Tammany Parish School Board
In this religious discrimination case, the plaintiffs alleged that their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments were violated when the school board excluded them from using school facilities for a "prayer meeting" at which civic and social issues would be discussed. The school board permits community groups and non-students to use school facilities for a wide variety of civic and recreational purposes such as luncheons, homeowner association meetings, seminars, and athletic activities. The policy permits groups to use school facilities to engage in discussions having a "religious viewpoint," but not to engage in "religious services or instruction." Relying on this distinction, the board denied facility access to the plaintiffs on the grounds that the proposed prayer meeting was a religious service rather than a meeting presented from a religious viewpoint. On April 25, 2003, the Section filed an amicus brief in support of plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, arguing that (1) plaintiffs' proposed meeting fits well within the forum created under the school board's facility use policy, and (2) there is no legal or practical distinction between religious viewpoints on a topic and "religious services or instruction." On June 3, 2003, the Section filed an amicus brief in opposition to defendants' motion for summary judgment.
On July 10, 2003, the court held a hearing on the parties' motions in which the Section participated. On July 29, 2003, the court issued an order granting summary judgment for plaintiffs. The court concluded that although the plaintiffs' proposed meeting was primarily a religious service, it also included a discussion of family and political issues from a legally protected religious viewpoint. Thus, the court held that the proposed meeting was not "mere religious worship," but included speech that the school district permitted through its facility use policy. The school district therefore improperly denied the plaintiffs access to school facilities for their evening meeting. On February 19, 2004, the case was dismissed.
United States v. State of Mississippi (Wayne County School District)
In this longstanding desegregation case, the Wayne County School District is subject to several court orders prohibiting the use of race in classroom assignment decisions and inter-district student transfers that impede the desegregation of the district's schools. In an August 10, 1970 order, the court ordered the district to adopt a desegregation plan, which was modified by several subsequent orders. On May 16, 2006, the court approved a consent order, which declared the district partially unitary in the areas of faculty assignment, staff assignment, transportation, extracurricular activities, and facilities. The 2006 consent order required the district to address the impermissible use of race in classroom assignment decisions at Waynesboro Elementary School (WES). On August 8, 2008, the court approved a consent order increasing the district's reporting requirements. In 2011, the United States notified the District of its determination that WES officials continued to use race as a factor in classroom assignment decisions and that white students residing in a majority-black attendance zone were impermissibly transferring to schools in a majority-white zone. To address these issues, the parties agreed to a consent order consent order, approved by the court on January 3, 2012, requiring the district to adopt a random assignment system for classroom assignment at WES and to take steps to stop impermissible student transfers.
Child Evangelism Fellowship v. Lenz
On July 9, 2004, Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF), an organization that sponsors after-school Good News Bible Clubs, filed a complaint and a motion for preliminary injunction, alleging that officials of the Upland Unified School District (California) discriminated against CEF by allowing non-profit organizations such as the Boy Scouts free use of school facilities while at the same time charging religious organizations such as CEF rent equal to “direct costs.”
The United States filed a motion to participate as amicus curiae in this matter, as the United States is charged with enforcement of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which authorizes the Attorney General to seek relief if a school deprives students of the equal protections of the laws. The Court granted the United States’ motion.
The United States filed a brief in support of plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction. The United States argued that the district’s practice of charging religious groups a fee to use school facilities for activities serving local youth when the district does not charge secular groups a fee to use facilities serving local youth violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments because the fee discriminated against CEF’s religious viewpoint.
On November 15, 2004, the Court granted the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction thereby enjoining the district from requiring CEF to pay any rental fees or other fees that are not required of other non-profit community organizations for use of the district’s facilities.
Then, on February 4, 2005, the Court entered a Stipulated Dismissal without prejudice with an attached Settlement Agreement stating that the district agreed, among other terms, to permit CEF equal access to school facilities on the same terms and conditions as other similar non-profit groups.
Communities for Equity v. Michigan High School Athletic Association
In this sex discrimination case, high school girls in Michigan filed a complaint alleging that the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) violated Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. They contended that MHSAA refused to sanction additional sports for high school girls, provided inferior practice and playing facilities for post-season tournaments held in certain girls' sports, and required
girls to play certain sports in disadvantageous seasons.
This last contention allegedly reduced participation opportunities for high school girls by shortening playing seasons, thereby preventing participation in club competitions and all-star competitions involving players
from other states and negatively affecting their chances of being recruited for collegiate-level sports programs. On September 7, 1999, the Section was granted leave to participate as litigating amicus curiae and filed an amicus brief at the summary judgment stage, arguing that the case should go forward under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause. On January 21, 2002, the court ruled in plaintiffs' favor, allowing the case to proceed to trial.
In the summer of 2001, the parties participated in mediation which resulted in a settlement of all claims except for the issue of playing seasons. The court conducted a two-week bench trial in September 2001 and received evidence concerning the following questions: (1) whether MHSAA, by assuming controlling authority over interscholastic athletics from member schools that receive federal funds, is subject to Title IX; (2) whether MHSAA is a state actor for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (3) whether MHSAA's scheduling of only girls' sports in disadvantageous seasons violated Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause. On December 17, 2001, the court issued its ruling finding in favor of the plaintiffs and the Section on all three
issues. See Communities for Equity v. Michigan High Sch. Athletic Ass'n, 178 F. Supp.2d 805 (W.D. Mich. 2001). The court held that MHSAA is subject to Title IX and is a state actor for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In so holding, the court further concluded that MHSAA's scheduling practices violated Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause. Lastly, the court ordered MHSAA to submit a compliance plan to remedy the discriminatory scheduling of girls' sports.
The Section filed an opposition to the compliance plan in June 2002. After reviewing briefing on the issue of the remedial plan and conducting a hearing on the matter, the Court issued a ruling requiring MHSAA to switch girls' basketball and volleyball to their traditional, advantageous seasons of the winter and fall respectively. The Court ultimately approved the rest of MHSAA's remedial plan, finding that the switching of the remaining sports at issue (soccer, golf, tennis, swimming, and diving) balanced the inequity of nontraditional playing seasons amongst high school boys and girls in Michigan.
MHSAA appealed the district court's rulings on liability and the remedial plan to the U.S. Court of Appeals to the Sixth Circuit. The Division filed an amicus brief in August 2003. In July 2004, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling that MHSAA's scheduling of sports violates the Equal Protection Clause. MHSAA then appealed to the Supreme Court, which instructed the Sixth Circuit to reconsider the case. On August 16, 2006, the Sixth Circuit issued an opinion that again affirmed the district court's ruling that the sports schedule discriminates against female athletes on the basis of sex. On December 7, 2006, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit denied rehearing and rehearing en banc. On April 2, 2007, the United States Supreme Court denied review of MHSAA's petition for certiorari.
Congress of Hispanic Educators and United States v. Denver School District No.1.
In 1999, the Section intervened in this lawsuit alleging the Denver Public Schools (DPS) violated Title VI and the EEOA by failing to take appropriate actions to overcome language barriers of its English Language Learner (ELL) students. On June 16,1999, the district court approved a new English Language Acquisition Plan for the Denver Public Schools.
The result of compliance monitoring by the Section and the Congress of Hispanic Educators(CHE), and DPS’s recognition that the 1999 order no longer reflected the district’s own best practices for serving ELL students, moved the parties to develop a new consent decree to replace the existing plan. On April 16, 2013 the district court in Denver approved a comprehensive consent decree between the Department of Justice, CHE, and DPS that requires DPS to provide language services to the more than 28,000 ELL students enrolled in the district’s 170 schools.
The consent decree requires the district to implement comprehensive measures to ensure that ELLs have equal opportunities to succeed academically in district educational programs, starting with the proper identification of ELL students when they enter DPS. Among other things, the consent decree requires DPS to: provide language acquisition services to ELL students in district schools, including charter schools, until they are proficient in English and to monitor ELL students after they exit services to ensure they are participating meaningfully and equally in mainstream classes; to make translation and interpretation services available for thousands of Limited English Proficient parents who speak more than 130 different languages – ensuring that all parents have access to essential information about their children’s education; to provide Pre-K language services at each school where DPS offers early childhood education; and to make appropriate language services available for ELL students who face unique challenges, including refugee students and students with disabilities.
Cook v. Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA)
The June 16, 2009 complaint alleges that FHSAA’s new policy discriminates against female students by reducing the maximum number of competitions that a school can schedule by 20% for varsity teams and 40% for sub-varsity teams while exempting 36,000 boys who play football and only 4,300 girls and 201 boys who participate in competitive cheerleading. The complaint also alleges that OCR has not recognized competitive cheerleading as a sport under Title IX and that even if it were recognized as a sport, the new policy exempts nearly nine times as many boys than girls from the reductions in their competition schedule. The complaint further alleges that FHSAA sanctions football for a total of 23 weeks of coaching, practices, and competitions, while the majority of girls’ sports operate for only a total of 15 weeks. The plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction on June 19, 2009. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss on July1, 2009. On July 14th, the Division filed a motion for leave to file an amicus brief in opposition to the defendant’s motion to dismiss and in support of plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction. The United States’ amicus brief argues that plaintiffs’ allegations establish claims of intentional discrimination, not just disparate impact, under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause that are sufficiently detailed to survive the motion to dismiss. The brief also argues that there is a substantial likelihood that the Title IX and Equal Protection claims will succeed on the merits, and that the court should preliminarily enjoin new Policy 6. On July 15, the court granted the United States’ motion for leave to file its brief and its request for oral argument at a preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for July 17. Shortly thereafter on July 15, FHSAA voted unanimously to rescind its challenged policy. On July 16, 2009, the court cancelled the preliminary injunction hearing because the plaintiffs and defendants agreed that FHSAA’s rescission of the policy rendered the motion for a preliminary injunction moot. On October 21, 2009, the court issued an order granting the parties’ agreed motion to dismiss the case without prejudice and retaining jurisdiction to enforce the terms of their settlement until December 31, 2010.
Coppedge and United States v. Franklin County Board of Education
In this long-standing desegregation case involving the Franklin County Board of Education (North Carolina), the Section currently is monitoring the school district's compliance with consent orders that the district court approved on June 17, 2003 and May 5, 2005. On April 13, 2000, the school district moved to dismiss the case on the grounds that it had attained unitary status. On November 22, 2000, the Section filed a memorandum opposing, in part, the school district's motion. In an order dated June 24, 2002, the district court granted in part and denied in part the school district's motion. The court held that the school district had attained unitary status in all areas except for student assignment, staff desegregation, and quality of education.
At the district court's direction, the parties began negotiations to determine if they could
develop a proposed consent order that would address the vestiges of segregation in student
assignment, staff desegregation, and quality of education. The parties presented the court with a
proposed consent order, which the court approved on June 17, 2003. The consent order requires the school district to, among other things: hire a consultant to analyze what practicable steps can be taken to further desegregation in how students are assigned to schools throughout the district and draft a new student assignment plan; implement measures to ensure that no school has a staff that reinforces the perception of a school as a "white school" or "black school"; and implement procedures to eliminate vestiges of segregation in areas such as advanced courses of instruction, discipline, gifted and talented programs, and special education.
On May 5, 2005, the district court approved a proposed consent order, which required the district to implement a new plan, based on the input of the consultant and the parties, that would eliminate the vestiges of discrimination to the extent practicable in student assignment. In addition, the court permitted rising seniors, juniors, eighth graders, and fifth graders who were affected under the plan to be “grandfathered” under the prior student assignment plan.
County of Henrico School Board v. R.T.
This case was brought by the Henrico County School Board (board) to appeal a Virginia hearing officer’s decision in favor of R.T.’s parents’ private school placement. R.T. is an autistic child entitled to a free and appropriate education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The hearing officer agreed with R.T.’s parents that the board failed to provide R.T. with a FAPE and that the private school placement was a FAPE. One issue before the federal district court was which party should pay for the private school placement pending the board’s appeal of the state hearing officer’s decision. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s regulation, 34 C.F.R. §300.514(c), which implements the IDEA’s stay put provision, 20 U.S.C. §1415(j), the board should fund the placement while litigation is pending. The board challenged the validity of the statutory and regulatory stay put provisions, and the Section filed an amicus brief on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education to defend both provisions. The Section argued that the regulation was consistent with the plain meaning of the statutory provision and that the statutory provision was a valid exercise of the Spending Clause power. On June 22, 2006, the court issued an opinion rejecting the board’s Spending Clause challenge and agreeing with the United States that the board must pay for R.T.’s private pendent placement.
Cowan and United States v. Bolivar County Board of Education (Cleveland City School District)
On March 28, 2012, the federal district court for the Northern District of Mississippi issued an order and opinion requiring the Cleveland, Mississippi school district to end the racial segregation of students in its schools, and to eliminate racial disparities in the composition of faculty at schools across the District. On May 2, 2011, the Department of Justice, after finding that students and faculty members remained segregated at schools throughout the district, filed a motion for further relief asking the court to find that the district had violated its desegregation obligations under several previously-entered desegregation orders governing the District, and to compel the district's compliance with federal law. In its brief, the United States argued that, while the district had been governed by desegregation orders for more than 42 years, the predominantly black schools located to the east of the railroad tracks that run through the 3,500-student northern Mississippi school district had never been desegregated. The United States further asserted that the ratio of black and white faculty at numerous District schools reinforced the reputation of those schools in the community as "white" or "black" schools.
For more information on the United States' motion, please see this press release. The district filed an opposition brief on August 18, 2011, and the United States filed a reply brief on October 6, 2011.
In a decision on March 28, 2012, the court determined that two schools, a middle school and high school that were formerly de jure black schools, had never been desegregated. The court also found that the ratio of black and white faculty at every school in the District deviated from the district-wide faculty ratio. The court ordered the district to submit a proposed desegregation plan addressing these issues. For more information on the court's decision, please see this blog entry.
As ordered by the Court, the District submitted a proposed desegregation plan on May 15, 2012. The United States filed objections to the plan on August 30, 2012. The District filed a response to these objections on October 2, 2012, to which the United States replied on October 26, 2012. The Court held a hearing on the proposed plan on December 11, 2012.
Curry v. Saginaw School District
On June 16, 2004, the parents of a 5th-grade student at the Hadley School Program for the Creative and Academically Talented sued the school district of the City of Saginaw, Michigan for allegedly discriminating against the student’s religious beliefs. Specifically, the complaint alleged that the district prohibited him from “selling” candy cane ornaments with an attached card explaining the religious origin of the candy cane as part of “Classroom City”–a multi-disciplinary marketplace town simulation that was part of the school’s social studies curriculum. The district conceded that the student had properly followed the assignment’s directions and received a grade of A for the simulation. Both the plaintiffs and the district filed cross motions for summary judgment.
The United States filed a motion to participate as amicus curiae in this matter, as the United States is charged with enforcement of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which authorizes the Attorney General to seek relief if a school deprives students of the equal protections of the laws. The Court granted the United States’ motion.
The United States filed an amicus brief in support of plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment. The United States argued that the district’s censorship of student religious speech that otherwise fulfills the assignment criteria violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments proscribing government regulation of speech that discriminates against a particular point of view–here a religious viewpoint.
On September 18, 2006, the Court issued an opinion finding that the district had abridged the plaintiff student’s First Amendment free speech rights, but granted the district’s motion for summary judgment on other grounds.
Dekalb County School District
In October 2012, counsel for the Sikh Coalition filed a complaint with the Department of Justice, alleging that a middle school student had been repeatedly targeted with verbal and physical harassment because of his Sikh faith. The United States has authority to investigate and resolve complaints of religious and national origin harassment through its enforcement of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Following an inquiry into the student-specific complaints, the United States notified the district of its concerns that the district had failed to respond promptly and appropriately to the Sikh Coalition's allegations of harassment, including allegations that the student was called "Aladdin" because he wore a turban and was told by a fellow student to "go back to his country." The United States also raised concerns that the district had not investigated witness statements that the student had been called a "terrorist" and that there was a history of fellow students targeting him because of his turban. The United States also found that the disciplinary measures the district did take had not been effective in ending the harassment, and that the student feared continued harassment.
The district worked cooperatively with the United States to resolve the complaint and ensure greater protections for the student. The resolution agreement , which will be in effect until the end of the 2014-2015 school year, requires the district to: work with a consultant to develop and implement anti-harassment training at the student's middle and high school; immediately implement a safety plan to ensure that the student is safe at school and, should incidents of harassment occur, that the district responds quickly and effectively; and meet with the student, his family, and administrators from his middle school and the high school where he will enroll, to identify key school personnel who can support the student should any future incidents of harassment occur.
For more information, please see this press release.
Doe and United States v. Anoka-Hennepin School District
In November 2010, the Department of Justice received a complaint alleging that students in the school district were being harassed by other students because they didn't dress or act in ways that conform to gender stereotypes. Pursuant to Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Departments of Justice and Education conducted an extensive investigation into sex-based harassment in the district's middle and high schools. Many students reported that the unsafe and unwelcoming school climate inhibited their ability to learn.
Six student plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Anoka-Hennepin School District in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota in July 2011. In August 2011, the Court asked the United States to join in the mediation of the lawsuit. On March 5, 2012. the United States, the six student plaintiffs, and the District filed a Consent Decree, which was entered by the Court on March 6, 2012. Also on March 5, 2012, the three parties filed a Joint Motion to Approve the Proposed Consent Decree and a Memorandum of Law in Support of the Joint Motion to Approve the Proposed Consent Decree, and the United States filed its Complaint-in-Intervention.
The Consent Decree requires the school district to retain an expert consultant in the area of sex-based harassment to review the district's policies and procedures concerning harassment; develop and implement a comprehensive plan for preventing and addressing student-on-student sex-based harassment at the middle and high schools; enhance and improve its training of faculty, staff and students on sex-based harassment; hire or appoint a Title IX coordinator to ensure proper implementation of the district's sex-based harassment policies and procedures and district compliance with Title IX; retain an expert consultant in the area of mental health to address the needs of students who are victims of harassment; provide for other opportunities for student involvement and input into the district's ongoing anti-harassment efforts; improve its system for maintaining records of investigations and responding to allegations of harassment; conduct ongoing monitoring and evaluation of its anti-harassment efforts; and submit annual compliance reports to the departments during the five year life of the Consent Decree.
For more information on the Consent Decree, please see this press release.
Fisher and United States v. Tucson Unified School District
On February 6, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona approved a Unitary Status Plan ("USP") filed by the Department of Justice, together with private plaintiffs and the Tucson Unified School District. The USP is the latest step in this longstanding desegregation case, originally filed in 1974. The United States intervened in the case in 1976. In 2012, after extensive negotiations, the parties jointly submitted the USP, a four-year plan requiring the District to undertake a robust set of measures to desegregate its schools. The USP touches on nearly every aspect of school operations and lays a strong foundation for a high quality educational environment for all students.
For more information, please see this press release.
Geier and United States v. Sundquist
On May 21, 1968, this case was filed by private plaintiffs to enjoin the proposed construction of the University of Tennessee-Nashville Center (UT-N). The original plaintiffs argued that construction of the predominantly white UT -N would perpetuate the racial identifiability of Tennessee State University (TSU), also located in Nashville, as a segregated black institution, thereby maintaining Tennessee's long-established dual system of public higher education. On July 22, 1968, the Section intervened in the case. A new UT-N campus was ultimately constructed in downtown Nashville; however, on February 28, 1977, the district court ordered the merger of TSU and UT-N. The court subsequently entered a Stipulation of Settlement between the State, the original plaintiffs, and the private plaintiff-interveners on September 25, 1984.
On January 4, 2001, the court approved a five-year consent decree negotiated by the parties to eliminate further the vestiges of segregation in the Tennessee system of public higher education. Under this consent decree, the State committed to creating new high-demand programs at TSU, particularly at the downtown campus (the former UT-N site), to appeal in particular to nontraditional students. Other efforts included revitalization of the downtown TSU campus, an increase in system-wide efforts to recruit black undergraduate students, and the creation and funding of a TSU endowment for educational excellence. In an order dated September 21, 2006, the court recognized the parties' efforts and achievements in the case in establishing a unitary system of public higher education in Tennessee, and approved the parties' joint motion for a final order of dismissal and terminated this longstanding litigation.
Hearn and United States v. Muskogee Public School District
A sixth-grade student who practiced Islam wore her hijab, a religious head covering, for several weeks at the beginning of the 2003-04 school year in the Muskogee Public School District. On September 11, 2003, school officials told the sixth-grader that she could no longer wear her hijab because of the “no hats” policy in the school’s dress code. The dress code, however, had not been applied consistently, and the school district had allowed students to wear hats for medical, educational, and other secular purposes. When the sixth-grader refused to remove her hijab, she was suspended for eight days.
In October 2003, the student, through her father, sued the school district for alleged violations of her constitutional rights and Oklahoma law. The United States opened an investigation in November 2003, and then intervened in the lawsuit upon finding evidence to support a claim based on the denial of her rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. On May 6, 2004, the United States filed a motion for summary judgment and an accompanying memorandum in support.
On May 20, 2004, the parties negotiated a consent order. Under the six-year consent order, the school district must: allow the plaintiff to wear her hijab; make similar religious accommodations for any other student in the school system who has a bona fide religious objection to the dress code; implement a training program for all teachers and administrators regarding the revised dress code; and publicize the revisions to students and parents. The district also must certify its compliance with the terms of the order to the United States for a four-year period. The private plaintiffs and the school district also negotiated a confidential damages settlement and the claim for expungement of her school records. For more on this settlement, please see the press release linked here.
Hereford and United States v. Huntsville Board of Education
In a long-standing desegregation case, the Huntsville City Schools proposed plans for construction to replace or expand several schools. Following negotiations, the United States agreed not to oppose the district’s proposed motion for approval of school construction plan, which the district submitted to the court. The court approved the plan on May 20, 2013.
Illinois State Board of Education (N.D. Ill.)
In this matter involving the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), the Section conducted a review to determine whether ISBE was providing appropriate guidance and monitoring of school districts' services to English Language Learner ("ELL") students as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA). The Section determined that ISBE was violating the EEOA because its administrative rules and guidance did not ensure that districts serve ELL students beyond the three-year requirement under State law for transitional bilingual education (TBE) and transitional program of instruction (TPI) services. Although ISBE denied violating the EEOA, it agreed to revise its administrative rules and guidance to make clear that ELLs must receive services until they achieve English proficiency on the State's mandated test. The amended rules were approved by ISBE on June 24, 2010, were cleared by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules on July 13, 2010, and will take effect once filed with the Illinois Secretary of State. See press release. The amended rules require school districts that terminate TBE and TPI services at year three to submit to ISBE a plan explaining the ELL services to be provided beyond year three, the staff providing such services, and the resources available to implement those services. ISBE also agreed to monitor these plans to determine if they are sufficient and appropriately implemented. ISBE further agreed that it will issue guidance identifying educationally sound ELL services that could be provided in lieu of TBE and TPI services after year three. ISBE released this guidance in March 2011. Pursuant to the agreement between the Department and ISBE, ISBE will apply the amended rules and this guidance when monitoring districts' ELL programs.
Jefferson Independent School District & United States v. Texas Education Agency
In this long-standing desegregation case involving the Jefferson (Texas) Independent School
District (JISD), the Section undertook informal discovery to assess whether the district was
complying with its desegregation order and applicable federal law. Based on its review of
the district, the Section determined that it had concerns in the following areas: in-school
assignments; faculty hiring and attrition; extra-curricular activities; and the absence
of a bi-racial advisory committee. The Section consented to a declaration of partial
unitary status in the areas of transportation, facilities, and transfers.
Following negotiations, the parties agreed to a
consent order, which the court approved on July 14, 2000. The order required the district to take steps to increase African-American student participation in its gifted program and its advanced classes. To decrease the number of African-American students in resource classes, the order also required the district to annually evaluate students in resource classes to determine if placement in a regular class would be more appropriate. The JISD provided three reports in conjunction with its requirements under the order, as well as supplemental reports requested by the Section. On October 16, 2001, the parties agreed to, and the court
signed, an agreed order of dismissal, indicating
that the JISD had achieved unitary states in all facets of its operations.
J.L. v. Mohawk Central School District
On January 14, 2010, in the Northern District of New York, the Section moved to intervene in J.L. v. Mohawk Central School District. The lawsuit was filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of J.L., a 15-year-old student in the District. J.L. alleged that the District violated state and federal laws including the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, both of which prohibit discrimination based on sex, including discrimination based on failure to conform to gender stereotypes. According to the United States' motion, J.L. failed to conform to gender stereotypes in both behavior and appearance. He exhibited feminine mannerisms, dyed his hair wore makeup and nail polish, and maintained predominantly female friendships. The alleged severe and pervasive student-on-student harassment based on sex escalated from derogatory name-calling to physical threats and violence. The United States further alleged that the District had knowledge of the harassment, but was deliberately indifferent in its failure to take timely, corrective action, and that the deliberate indifference restricted J.L.'s ability to fully enjoy the educational opportunities of his school. The District denied all allegations. Prior to the court ruling on the United States' intervention motion, an out-of-court settlement was reached among J.L., the District, and the United States. The court approved the settlement agreementt on March 29, 2010. The agreement requires the District to (1) retain an expert consultant in the area of harassment and discrimination based on sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation to review the District's policies and procedures; (2) develop and implement a comprehensive plan for disseminating the District's harassment and discrimination policies and procedures; (3) retain an expert consultant to conduct annual training for faculty and staff, and students as deemed appropriate by the expert, on discrimination and harassment based on sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation; (4) maintain records of investigations and responses to allegations of harassment for five years; and (5) provide annual compliance reports to the United States and private plaintiffs. Lastly, $50,000.00 will be paid to J.L. and $25,000.00 in attorneys' fees will be paid to the New York Civil Liberties Foundation.
Junior Doe, et al. & United States v. Allentown School District
On May 5, 2006, Junior Does filed a complaint against the Allentown School District alleging that, as six- and seven-year-old students, they were sexually assaulted by another student in the bathrooms at Central Elementary School during the 2003-2004 school year. On April 21, 2009, Junior Does amended their complaint to include a sex discrimination claim pursuant to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, and on July 10, 2009, the Division intervened. On August 3, 2011, Junior Does again amended their complaint to include allegations that a fifth student was sexually assaulted, adding another minor plaintiff as a party.
In the case, the Division alleged the following: that sexual assaults occurred on at least five separate occasions; that the district was made aware of each incident immediately after it occurred; and that despite this notice, the district did not take appropriate action, and in some circumstances took no action, to prevent the harassment from recurring. Furthermore, the department alleged that both before and after the sexual harassment of the students, the district failed to adopt and implement adequate and effective sexual harassment policies and procedure as required by federal law; had the district adopted and implemented such policies and procedures, the district would have prevented the continued sexual assault of students.
After extensive discovery, the Division and the school district negotiated a consent decree. The court approved the proposed consent decree on July 31, 2012. The consent decree provides for substantial systemic relief and requires the school district to take the following steps: develop and implement a comprehensive plan for addressing and preventing sexual harassment in all district schools; retain an expert consultant in the area of student-on-student harassment to draft and implement a sexual harassment policy and procedures; provide training to administrators, faculty, staff, students and parents on sex-based harassment; select qualified district and school-based equity coordinators to ensure proper implementation of the district's harassment policies and procedures and compliance with Title IX, including prompt investigation, resolution and reporting of sexual harassment complaints and allegations; create procedures for identifying, monitoring, and supervising students with a confirmed history of sexual harassment toward other students; develop and implement policies and procedures for communicating with outside agencies, such as police, hospital and child protection agencies, of allegations of sexual harassment in the district; and submit annual compliance reports to the Division.
Lau v. San Francisco Unified School District
In this case, formerly known as Lau v. Nichols, the United States Supreme Court held that the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) had violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, and its implementing regulations by failing to provide special programs designed to rectify the English language deficiencies of students who do not speak or understand English, or are of limited English-speaking ability, and by failing to provide these students with equal access to the instructional program. Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 (1974). The Supreme Court remanded the case for the fashioning of appropriate relief. On October 22, 1976, the parties entered into a Consent Decree that incorporated a Master Plan that requires bilingual-bicultural education for the English Language Learner (ELL) students who speak Chinese, Filipino, and Spanish. Chinese and Spanish bilingual programs continue subsequent to the passage of California's Proposition 227. The Consent Decree also requires the provision of other special programs and English as a Second Language (ESL) for ELL students of other language groups, as well as the provision of bilingual instruction, whenever feasible. The Consent Decree calls for annual reporting to the Court by the SFUSD regarding its ELL programs and the establishment of a Bilingual Community Council (BCC) to assist the SFUSD in filing these annual reports.
On August 24, 2006, the Court issued an order requiring the parties to show cause why the Court should not relieve the SFUSD of responsibility for reporting under the extant Consent Decree. The United States filed a response to the show cause order that identified problems with the ELL programs and recommended continued reporting by the SFUSD, additional on-site visits of the ELL programs, and the development of an updated Master Plan for ELL programs. The SFUSD and the private plaintiffs filed responses agreeing to this approach for going forward. The Court continued the reporting obligations and assigned the case to an active judge. On May 1, 2007, the new judge held a status conference in which he agreed to let the parties continue their school visits and work collaboratively on developing an updated Master Plan. The United States' consultant and members of the BCC completed visits to twenty-four schools on May 18, 2007. The parties agreed to a new Master Plan that would replace the outdated plan and filed a stipulated application to modify the 1976 Consent Decree. On September 11, 2008, the Court approved the new Master Plan and entered an order modifying the 1976 Consent Decree.
Lee and United States v. Macon
This statewide settlement resolved issues relating to the overrepresentation of black students in the mental retardation and emotional disturbance special education classifications and the underrepresentation of black students in the specific learning disabilities and gifted and talented special education classifications. This consent decree, approved by the court on August 30, 2000, involves special education issues that were raised as a result of information gathered during unitary status reviews in eleven desegregation cases pending before the United States District Court in the Middle District of Alabama. Parties to the decree include the United States, private plaintiffs, and the Alabama State Department of Education.
The settlement required the State of Alabama to undertake initiatives in providing teacher training, to establish a program to improve reading achievement, and to make changes to Alabama administrative law in the areas of pre-referral, referral, evaluation procedures, and eligibility criteria. This emphasis on pre-referral intervention services resulted in substantial changes over the six years of implementing the consent decree. There have been significant reductions in racial disparities in the special education classifications of mental retardation (MR), and disparities have been virtually eliminated in the classifications of emotional disturbance (ED) and specific learning disabilities (SLD). There also has been an overall decrease in the number of students classified as MR or ED, and increases in students classified as SLD. The number of black students classified as gifted also has increased.
The settlement also required reevaluation of certain categories of minority students who had been identified as MR. As a result, several hundred students who had been inappropriately placed as MR were exited from special education. These students were provided with appropriate supplemental services to help transition successfully into the general education program, and were carefully monitored during this process.
Lee and United States v. Macon County Board
of Education (Clay County)
In this school desegregation case, the parties entered into a
consent decree, which provided
for the closure of two K-12 schools and the consolidation of the students into two central school
zones. One of the K-12 schools to be closed had a virtually all-white student body and had never
graduated a black student. The day after the decree was filed, the school board voted to rescind
its consent. The Section filed a motion to enforce the consent decree,
arguing that once the board had given its consent, granted authority to counsel to sign on
its behalf, and jointly filed the consent decree, the board was bound by the terms of the
At the same time, two groups moved to intervene in the case for the purpose of opposing the
consent decree. The groups comprised parents, students, and other citizens from each of the two
schools scheduled for closure. The Section filed briefs opposing both motions for
intervention – one against the Mellow Valley School intervenors and one
against the Bibb Graves School intervenors – arguing
that the proposed intervenors did not express a cognizable interest in furthering desegregation,
and, even if they had, the United States and private plaintiffs adequately represented any such
On May 13, 2003, the district court accepted all of the Section's arguments and entered an
order (1) denying the Board's motion to rescind its
consent, (2) denying both motions to intervene, and (3) enforcing the consent decree.
The parties worked to implement the consent decree, and the two schools were
successfully closed prior to the beginning of the 2003-04 school
year. The two groups of unsuccessful intervenors appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which ultimately dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.
Lewiston School District
In this matter involving the Lewiston, Maine school district, the United States reviewed whether the district was providing appropriate instruction and services to English Language Learners (ELLs)–particularly among the district’s large population of Somalian refugees–as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA). On June 4, 2007, the school district and the United States entered into a settlement agreement outlining the measures that the school district will take to ensure its compliance with the EEOA. The agreement requires the district to develop, among other things: standardized curricula for ELLs; adequate teacher training and collaborative opportunities; systematic monitoring and reporting on the academic progress of ELLs; and a comprehensive ELL program evaluation model.
Liddell and United States v. Special Administrative Board of the Transitional School District of St. Louis, Missouri
This historic desegregation involving the St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) began in 1972. The Section continues to monitor the SPLS’s compliance with a 1999 Agreement that set forth requirements to ameliorate the effects of segregation through voluntary interdistrict transfers, remedial programs, school improvement and accountability, and the provision of funds from the state to the SLPS. This Agreement has been consensually modified by new orders and agreements in recent years, including a 2011 agreement that allowed for the use of desegregation funds for specific programs, such as magnet school transportation, principal leadership training, early childhood, and enhanced computing and technology in the SLPS. Section 10 of the 1999 Agreement set aside funds for “construction and site acquisition costs to accommodate any reasonable anticipated net enrollment increase caused by any reduction or elimination of the voluntary transfer plan.” 1999 Agreement, Section 10, at 12. While the parties anticipated in 1999 that the voluntary transfer program would continue for a number of years, Section 10 was designed to provide for SLPS’ capital needs if the transfer program ended and numerous students returned at one time to the SLPS. Over the years, however, the assumptions underlying creation of the Section 10 fund did not come to pass, primarily as a result of population declines, the advent of charter schools, and the ongoing commitment by both city and county schools to the voluntary transfer program. Accordingly, in 2013, the court approved the parties’ agreement to allow the use of certain remedial funds set aside in the desegregation account to provide continued funding for the St. Louis Community Monitoring and Support Task Force.
Lopez and United States v. Metropolitan Nashville School District
On July 30, 2007, Kimberly Lopez filed a complaint against the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (“Metro”) alleging her son was sexually assaulted by another student while riding a special education school bus operated by Metro. On April 30, 2008, Plaintiff amended her complaint to add a sex discrimination claim against Metro pursuant to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681. Recognizing the United States’ substantial interest in ensuring recipients of federal funds do not discriminate on the basis of sex in violation of Title IX, the Court issued an order granting the United States Motion to Intervene and permitting the United States to file its complaint in intervention. In January 2009, the United States moved for summary judgment, and subsequently opposed Metro’s cross-motion for summary judgment on Plaintiffs’ Title IX claim and submitted a reply brief in support of its own motion. On July 7, 2009, the Court issued a memorandum opinion denying the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment but adopting the Section’s interpretation of Title IX in numerous key respects. On February 8, 2010, the parties entered into a consent decree that obligates the Nashville Public School District to take substantial steps to enhance the security of students with disabilities on its public school transportation system. These steps include staffing bus monitors to assist drivers on all special education buses; implementing comprehensive screening procedures to ensure that students with disabilities are not assigned to buses where they would be at risk of harassment; expediting the investigation of suspected acts of sexual harassment involving students with disabilities; and ensuring open lines of communication between transportation officials and school-based personnel. Metro also agreed to pay Plaintiff $1.475 million as part of the settlement.
Lovins and United States v. Pleasant Hill Public School District
The Section intervened in this same-sex peer harassment case alleging the school district violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by failing to respond appropriately to harassment of a student on the basis of sex. Specifically, the Section alleged in our complaint-in-intervention : from the eighth grade through the eleventh grade, Jeremy Lovins was subjected to harassment on the basis of sex (ostensibly because other students believed he was gay); Jeremy and his parents repeatedly informed
school officials of the harassment but the harassment continued; and Jeremy was eventually subjected to an assault and forced to leave school because of the harassment. On July 31, 2000, the Court entered a consent decree settling the case
The consent decree included monetary relief for Mr. Lovins in the amount of $72,500 and injunctive relief. Under the consent decree, the school district agreed, among other things: to conduct a climate assessment of student-to-student and teacher-to-student relations within its schools; to develop a comprehensive plan to identify, prevent, and remedy harassment and discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation; to educate and train teachers, staff, and students about the operation of the policy and procedures; to maintain written records of complaints and investigations; and to file implementation reports with the Section and the court.
Madison and United States v. Sullivan County Board of Education
The two plaintiffs alleged, among other things, that the Sullivan County Board of
Education (SCBE) violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection
Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by failing to appropriately address known
student-on-student harassment on the basis of race. Specifically, plaintiffs' amended
complaint alleges that both Michael and Marquita Madison, who are black, were
subjected to ongoing racial harassment while attending Sullivan East High School (East).
This harassment included a constant barrage of racial slurs, some made within earshot of
teachers, racially derogatory graffiti on walls and desks, and racially offensive
paraphernalia. Though school officials knew or should have known of the harassment, they
failed to take appropriate steps to address it. Marquita eventually transferred to
another school after her sophomore year. Michael fell victim to a racially-motivated assault
outside the school cafeteria his junior year. He did not return to East after the assault
and finished high school on homebound studies.
The Section filed its complaint-in-intervention,
motion to intervene, and supporting memorandum
in November 2000. In our complaint-in-intervention, we sought monetary relief for the
plaintiffs and injunctive relief, such as policies and procedures to prevent or address such
harassment in the future. The court granted the Section's intervention on November 28, 2000.
The parties conducted discovery in 2001 and early 2002. Following discovery, the parties negotiated
a consent order and monetary settlement of the Title VI and equal protection claims. Under the
consent order, which was approved by the Court on October 16, 2002,
the school system agreed to retain an expert to develop a comprehensive plan to prevent, identify, and remedy harassment and
discrimination; provide an education and training program for teachers, staff, and students about
the school district's policies prohibiting harassment and discrimination; and maintain written
records of each harassment allegation received, investigation conducted and corrective action taken
by the district to ensure a consistent and effective review of allegations. For more details about the settlement, please see the
press release linked here.
McFerren and United States v. County Board of Education of Fayette County
The Section has been monitoring this desegregation case since 1969 and identified issues related to student assignments, faculty assignments, and facilities. On February 5, 2009, the court approved a consent order addressing, among other things: approval of implementation of a three-year plan will alter the school district’s grade configuration and implement a school paring structure the first year; adjust the district’s attendance zones the second year; and direct the district to pursue funding for the construct a new elementary school by the third year.
Mercer County School District
In this matter involving the Mercer County School District in West Virginia, the Section conducted a review to determine whether the district was providing appropriate services to English Language Learner ("ELL") students as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 ("EEOA"). After determining that the school district was not complying with Section 1703(f) of the EEOA, the United States entered into a settlement agreement with the school district on January 31, 2012. This agreement addressed, among other things, the school district's obligations to: timely identify and assess all students with a primary or home language other than English; serve ELLs with appropriate instruction; provide adequate teacher training; and carefully monitor the academic progress of current and former ELLs.
Miller and United States v. Board of Education of Gadsden
On November 18, 1963, private plaintiffs filed this case complaining that the Gadsden City Board of Education was maintaining a segregated school system. On May 9, 1966, the Section intervened and joined the plaintiffs in seeking injunctive relief that would bring the school system into conformity with federal constitutional and statutory provisions.
Over the years, the court issued a series of orders aimed at eliminating the vestiges of past discrimination and completely desegregating the school system. In July 2003, the court approved the parties' proposed consent order that required the school district to take remedial actions in the areas of student assignment, personnel assignment, facilities, and quality of education. The consent order required the district to assign students randomly to classrooms and to enforce attendance zone lines strictly. With respect to personnel assignment, the consent order required the district to increase efforts to recruit minority teachers and to ensure that each school had a faculty whose racial diversity was reflective of the district-wide faculty. The consent order also required the district to make substantial improvements to its secondary schools so that these facilities were all of comparable quality. Finally, with respect to quality of education, the consent order required the district to equalize its offering of and access to advanced and honor classes among secondary schools. Having fulfilled these obligations, the district was declared unitary on August 26, 2005.
Monroe and United States v. Jackson-Madison County School System Board of Education
In this long-standing school desegregation case, the Jackson-Madison County School
Board filed a motion for unitary status in December 1999, asserting that it had complied
in good faith with prior desegregation decrees and had eliminated the vestiges of
segregation to the extent practicable. The Section and the private plaintiffs
opposed the board's motion for unitary status. The parties engaged in extensive
negotiations, which resulted in an
agreement shortly before trial in November 2000.
The agreement, which the court approved in December
2000, permits the board to proceed with its plan to construct five new schools and
implement revised student attendance zones over the next four years. The agreement
includes numerous measures that will further desegregation by voluntary means, including
the construction of magnet schools and the introduction of other school choice options.
The board is also required to take additional remedial action in faculty and staff
assignments, and to encourage minority student participation in all programs and activities.
Implementation and monitoring of the agreement is ongoing
M.A. v. Newark Public Schools
Parents of students with disabilities who allege that their children were not properly identified,
evaluated, and provided with special education services filed a class action lawsuit
against the Newark Public Schools, the State of New Jersey, and several state officials.
The lawsuit alleges that Newark does not have adequate systems in place to comply with the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and that New Jersey has violated its
obligation to supervise local implementation of IDEA requirements.
In its motion to dismiss, New Jersey raised a constitutional challenge to the IDEA,
claiming that the Eleventh Amendment afforded it immunity against a private lawsuit to
enforce the IDEA. The Section sought and was granted intervention to defend the
constitutionality of the IDEA. In its brief, the Section argued that New Jersey had agreed to
comply with the IDEA and waive its sovereign immunity when it accepted federal IDEA funds
to defray the cost of educating students with disabilities. In the alternative, the
Section argued that Congress validly abrogated state sovereign immunity pursuant
to the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court accepted both arguments and denied the
State's motion to dismiss. The defendants appealed the denials of their motions to dismiss, and
the Appellate Section defended the IDEA's constitutionality on appeal. On September 16, 2003,
the Third Circuit issued an opinion
affirming the district court's holding that the State of New Jersey had waived its sovereign
Northeastern Local School District
On September 28, 2012, the Educational Opportunities Section of the Civil Rights Division entered into a settlement agreement with the Northeastern Local School District (NELSD) in Springfield, Ohio, to resolve allegations of racial harassment of African-American students in the district.
In December 2011, the Section received a complaint alleging incidents of racial harassment, including race-based death threats, directed at an African-American student enrolled at Kenton Ridge High School in NELSD. The Section's investigation of the complaint revealed that the student had been subjected to significant harassment based on race and retaliation for reporting the harassment of which the District knew or should have known. In violation of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the District failed to investigate the alleged harassment and retaliation adequately, address it effectively, and prevent it from recurring. Because of the severe, pervasive, and persistent harassment and retaliation, the student was afraid to go to school and eventually left the district out of fear for her own safety. The investigation also revealed that other African-American students in the district had experienced racial harassment and retaliation for reporting racial harassment.
Under the terms of the agreement, the district agreed to take a variety of steps to prevent racial harassment at all of its schools, to respond appropriately to harassment that occurs, and to eliminate the hostile environment resulting from harassment. These steps include revising policies and procedures for handling racial harassment complaints; conducting trainings for faculty, staff, students, and parents; and reporting data to the Department of Justice for three years. For more information, please see this press release.
North Plainfield Board of Education
In this matter involving the North Plainfield, New Jersey school district, the Section reviewed whether the district was providing appropriate instruction and services to English Language Learners (ELLs), as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA). Based on its review of the district, the Section raised concerns about, among other things: the school district's procedures for screening new students to determine whether they are ELLs; the opportunities that ELLs have to integrate with native speakers of English in a school setting; the extent to which the district's school libraries and media centers are accessible to ELLs; and the academic support provided by the district to ELLs who enroll in general education classes. : The school district and the Section engaged in good-faith negotiations about these and other issues, and on September 3, 2004, entered into a settlement agreement outlining the measures that the school district was required to take to ensure its compliance with the EEOA. The district compiled in good faith with the settlement agreement that ended on September 3, 2007.
O.T. v. Frenchtown Elementary School District
This religious discrimination case arose after the principal of an elementary school in New Jersey prohibited an eight-year-old girl from singing a Christian song in a voluntary after-school talent show. On May 20, 2005, the student’s parents filed suit in federal district court, alleging that the school violated her constitutional rights by censoring her speech. The school defended the censorship by asserting that (1) the song had an overtly religious and proselytizing message and (2) permitting the song would have violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
On June 19, 2006, the Section filed an amicus brief in support of the student’s motion for summary judgment, arguing that the school engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination by censoring her performance based solely on the religious perspective of her song. The brief also contended that the school’s Establishment Clause justification was unavailing because the song clearly represented the student’s expression, not the school’s.
On December 11, 2006, the district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, granting summary judgment. In its opinion, the court held that the school’s censorship of “Awesome God” constituted unlawful viewpoint discrimination because the song conformed to the talent show guidelines and the school permitted other acts with religious and “proselytizing” content. The court found that the school did not have “a legitimate pedagogical concern in distancing itself from proselytizing religious speech.” The court further ruled that the school’s Establishment Clause concerns could not justify censoring the plaintiff’s song because the performances in the talent show did not represent school-sponsored speech.
Owatonna Public School District (D. Min.)
On April 12, 2011, the Educational Opportunities Section of the Civil Rights Division and the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reached a resolution agreement with the Owatonna Public School District ("District") in Owatonna, Minnesota, to resolve a complaint regarding the student-on-student harassment and disproportionate discipline of Somali-American students based on their race and national-origin.
The complaint arose from a November 2009 fight between several white and Somali-American students at Owatonna High School and alleged severe and pervasive harassment. Following DOJ's and OCR's investigation, the Section and OCR worked with the school district to resolve the complaint. The departments gathered evidence indicating that the district meted out disproportionate discipline for the students involved in the November 2009 incident and that the district's policies, procedures and trainings were not adequately addressing harassment against Somali-American students.
The District took affirmative steps to address the harassment and disproportionate discipline of Somali-American students, and voluntarily entered into the resolution agreement. Under the terms of the agreement, the District will take all reasonable steps to ensure that all students enrolled in the district are not subject to harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin, and to respond promptly and appropriately to all reports of harassment. To that end, the District has agreed to improve its policies and procedures concerning harassment and discipline as necessary to make them effectively protect students from racial or national origin-based harassment. For more information, please see this press release.
Owen and United States v. L'Anse Area Schools
This case involves religious harassment by students against a Jewish public school teacher in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Mr. Owen, a veteran teacher of more than 30 years, filed his lawsuit in federal district court in March 2000 after an investigation by the Detroit office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concluded that his complaint had merit. The United States intervened in October 2000, alleging that the L'Anse Area Schools subjected Mr. Owen to religious harassment while he was employed by the school district. The United States alleged that Mr. Owen had been the target of numerous incidents of anti-Semitic harassment by his students, including the drawing and etching of swastikas and hate messages such as "Die Jews," "Kill Owen," "KKK," and "White Power" in and around his classroom on multiple occasions and the placement of a hangman's noose on his classroom door. The United States alleged that the school district failed to take effective measures to remedy the harassment and to keep it from recurring despite Mr. Owen's repeated complaints. Further, the United States alleged that as a result of the harassment, Mr. Owen was forced to take an extended medical leave and ultimately retire from the school district.
Following discovery and an unsuccessful motion for summary judgment by the school district, the parties entered mediation, reaching a settlement agreement in March 2002. Under the agreement, which the district court approved on April 11, 2002, Mr. Owen was paid $265,000. The agreement also required the school district to review and revise its policies; train its employees to recognize, investigate and address harassment and discrimination; and educate its students about the inappropriateness of harassment and discrimination. In addition, the agreement required the district’s faculty and staff to report actual or suspected incidents of harassment or discrimination to appropriate school officials. The Justice Department monitored the school district's compliance with the settlement agreement for three years, and the case was dismissed on December 15, 2005.
Palm Beach County
In September and November 2011, the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice notified the School District of Palm Beach County that it had received complaints regarding the District's enrollment and registration practices, as well as its practices of administering school discipline. The Division then conducted an investigation, including reviewing documents and data; conducting a site visit that included tours of schools and interviews with Principals, Area Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, District Office staff, the School District of Palm Beach County Police Department, and the Superintendent; meeting with community members and local stakeholders; and reviewing and providing comments regarding the District's enrollment and discipline policies. The United States conducted its investigation with the full cooperation of the District.
At the conclusion of the investigation, the United States and the District engaged in extensive negotiations, resulting in a settlement agreement signed by the Parties on February 26, 2013. Under the settlement agreement, the district will enroll all area students regardless of background and will provide translation and interpretation services throughout the registration process. The district will also limit the use of disciplinary measures that remove students from the classroom and implement behavior management and discipline practices that support and protect students. Among other things, the agreement requires that ELL students and parents who are limited English proficient receive translation and interpretation services throughout the enrollment and discipline processes; expands the use of language-accessible positive behavior interventions and supports ("PBIS"); places limits on the use of discipline measures that remove students from the classroom; establishes clear guidelines for when law enforcement intervention is appropriate; requires school law enforcement officers to communicate with students in a language the student understands, including by securing an interpreter when appropriate; requires providing training to give teachers and administrators the tools necessary to manage their schools in a safe, effective and positive manner; and requires expanding data-driven monitoring and accountability systems.
For more information, please see this press release.
Pedersen and United States v. South Dakota High School Activities Association
In this matter involving sex discrimination, several high school girls
and their representatives filed a complaint alleging that the South Dakota High School
Activities Association (SDHSAA) violated Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of
the Fourteenth Amendment. Specifically, the
plaintiffs contended that the SDHSAA discriminated against female athletes by requiring
girls to play certain sports (basketball and volleyball) in disadvantageous seasons.
Playing in disadvantageous seasons can result in substantial harms that deny female
high school athletes equal athletic opportunities, including, among others, the ability
to participate in interstate competition and club competition, the opportunity to be
recruited for collegiate-level sports programs, and the opportunity to have the same
number of games and practices as similarly-situated boys' sports teams.
On October 17, 2000, the Department was granted leave to intervene in the lawsuit
as a plaintiff-party in support of the high school girls. Subsequently, the SDHSAA
moved for summary judgment on the issue of whether the association was subject to Title
IX and whether it is a state actor for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Before any further
briefing was completed, however, the parties agreed to engage in mediation and
ultimately reached a settlement. Pursuant to the parties' stipulation, the Court
entered a Consent Order on December 5, 2000, requiring
the SDHSAA to schedule girls' high school volleyball during the traditional fall
season and girls' high school basketball during the traditional winter season
beginning with the 2002-03 school year. The SDHSAA submitted a detailed plan which
was subsequently agreed to by the plaintiff-parties and approved by the Court.
In June of 2002 and shortly before the season switch was to take place, a group
of parents and students filed a separate lawsuit in state court that was removed
to federal court, Hoffman v. South Dakota High Sch. Activities Ass'n, C.A. No.
02-4127 (D. S.D.), seeking to challenge the Consent Order entered in the Pedersen
case, or in the alternative, to delay the season switch for four more years. The
Hoffman plaintiffs also filed a motion for preliminary injunction seeking to enjoin
the season switch immediately. The Department moved to intervene in the lawsuit
as a defendant to uphold the prior Consent Order entered in the Pedersen case and
the district court granted the Department's motion to intervene. The Department
also filed a motion to dismiss the Hoffman lawsuit on procedural grounds that the
district court held in abeyance until after the hearing on the motion for a
preliminary injunction. The district court conducted a three-day evidentiary
hearing on the merits of the Hoffman case at which the Department presented
evidence. Shortly thereafter, the district court issued an opinion
denying the Hoffman plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. On January
22, 2003, the district court granted the Department's motion to dismiss and
dismissed the Hoffman lawsuit with prejudice.
Plainfield Board of Education
In this matter involving the Plainfield, New Jersey School District, the Section reviewed whether the district was providing appropriate instruction and services to English Language Learners (ELLs), as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA). Based on its review of the district, the Section raised concerns about, among other things: the school district's procedures for screening new students to determine whether they are ELLs; the opportunities that ELLs have to integrate with native speakers of English in a school setting; the extent to which the district's school libraries and media centers are accessible to ELLs; and the academic support provided by the district to ELLs who enroll in general education classes. The school district and the Section engaged in good-faith negotiations about these and other issues, and on June 30, 2003, entered into a settlement agreement outlining the measures that the school district will take to ensure that it complies with the EEOA. The district compiled in good faith with the settlement agreement that ended on June 30, 2006.
Pratt v. Indian River Central School District
In April 2009, Plaintiff filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York alleging, inter alia, that the Indian River Central School District, its Board of Education, and eight of its employees violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. On June 11, 2010, the Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the Equal Protection Clause and Title IX claims. On August 13, 2010, the United States filed a motion seeking leave to participate as amicus curiae in order to provide the court with the proper legal standards governing harassment on the basis of sex under the Equal Protection Clause and Title IX. The United States argues in its amicus brief that harassment based on sex stereotyping is a legally cognizable claim under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause; that sexual orientation harassment does not preclude a harassment claim based on non-conformity to sex stereotypes; and that a hostile environment claim in primary and secondary schools can span classes, grades, and schools.
Prince William County Schools
In this matter involving the Prince William County School District, the Section conducted a compliance review to determine whether the district was providing appropriate instruction and other services to English Language Learner ("ELL") students as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA). On September 5, 2013, the Section and the district entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement outlining the steps the district will take to resolve the issues identified by the United States and ensure compliance with the EEOA. Among other things, the agreement requires the district to: provide all ELL students with adequate English Language Development and sheltered content instruction by qualified ELL teachers; ensure that ELL teachers and administrators receive appropriate training; monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of its ELL programs; modify its enrollment and registration practices to ensure that students have access to educational programs regardless of race, national origin, or immigration status; provide ELL students and Limited English Proficient parents meaningful access to district and school-level information, such as discipline and special education forms and meetings; and take measures to ensure discipline is administered in a nondiscriminatory way, such as instituting cultural responsiveness training for teachers. The district-wide review and agreement grew out of an investigation of a complaint regarding the Fred Lynn Middle School. That investigation resulted in a 2010 agreement requiring remedial measures at that school, which was later amended by a 2011 agreement. This school and all others in the district are now subject to the 2013 agreement, which requires the district to report to the Section on the agreement's implementation through 2016.
Putman v. Board of Education of Somerset Independent Schools
In this peer-on-peer sexual harassment case, a student alleged his rights were violated under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. More specifically, the student contended the school district failed to take adequate steps to protect him from an ongoing campaign of sexual harassment by his peers.
The harassment included: three written death threats, repeated and unwanted sexual contact, offensive and hostile verbal abuse, and other acts involving intimidation and humiliation.
In response to defendants' motion to dismiss the case, the Section submitted an amicus curiae brief in support of the plaintiff. In this brief, the Section argued a Title IX claim was appropriate because of the nature and severity of harassment involving conduct of a sexual nature. Furthermore, the Section argued the student's Equal Protection claim, challenging discrimination based on his actual or perceived sexual orientation, should not be dismissed. Following the amicus participation of the Section and mediation between the plaintiff and defendants, the case settled. In addition to monetary relief for the plaintiff, the school district modified its sexual harassment policies, applicable to both students and employees, to prohibit discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. The modified policies also describe the school district's responsibilities and the recourse available to victims of discrimination.
Scheidt v. Tri-Creek School Corporation
The Tri-Creek Corporation School District in Indiana had an attendance policy that allowed for only one day of excused absences for religious observance. After a student missed more than one day for religious worship, the District’s attendance policy stated that the student would be given an unexcused absence and subjected to various sanctions including loss of academic credit, inability to make up work, and suspension. The policy also stated that legal action may be taken against the parent.
After receiving a complaint about the enforcement of Tri-Creek’s policy, the United States intervened in the case on behalf of Ruth Scheidt and her son, M.S., both adherents to the religious tenets of the United Church of God. During the 2004-05 school year, M.S. was given eight unexcused absences for documented religious attendance; teachers failed to allow him to make up classwork and the district threatened expulsion and legal action, including the filing of educational neglect charges against Ms. Scheidt. On August 10, 2005, the Section filed a brief asserting that Tri-Creek’s attendance policy violated Ms. Scheidt and her son’s right to exercise their religion freely, and Ms. Scheidt’s right to raise her son consistent with her religious beliefs.
Shortly after the Section's intervention, the District and the plaintiffs reached a settlement that: (1) absences for religious observances will be recorded as “excused” and credit given for timely make-up work; and (2) school attendance policies will be revised to accommodate religious observances. Unlike in the past, there is now no limit on the number of excused absences a student may receive for religious observance.
Smith v. Winters
In this race discrimination case, the plaintiffs sued the University of South Florida (USF),
alleging that it had violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by retaliating
against black players on the USF women's basketball team who had complained to
university officials about discriminatory treatment by the head coach. At the
summary judgment stage, the Section filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs,
arguing that Title VI prohibits retaliation against individuals who complain of
racially discriminatory treatment, and that this prohibition is necessary to protect
the victims of racial discrimination and concerned third parties who come forward
with their complaints. Prior to the court ruling on the summary judgment motion,
the parties settled the case.
Smith and United States v. Concordia Parish School Board
On January 30, 1970, the Court ordered Defendants, including the Concordia Parish School Board, to adopt a desegregation plan. Concordia Parish School District (“District”) is still operating under the requirements of this 1970 federal desegregation order and further orders mandating the desegregation of the District. A January 4, 2013 consent order addressed a new charter school’s obligations to comply with the court’s orders in the case and take measures to ensure equal access to the school.
Somerville School District
A review of the Somerville School District in Massachusetts concerning the instruction and services provided to English Language Learners (ELLs) revealed the school district was not comporting with the requirements of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA). On November 25, 2008, the Section and the Somerville School District entered into a settlement agreement addressing concerns raised by the Section including specific provisions requiring: adequate registration, identification, and placement of all ELLs; ongoing training of all personnel involved in the registration, identification, and placement process; maintenance of a database of qualified and available translation and interpretation services; sufficient and appropriate instruction for ELLs; development of an English Language Development (ELD)/English as a Second Language (ESL) curricula; qualified and trained teachers of ELLs; the provision of adequate materials; appropriate special education services and language services for ELLs who are eligible for both services; careful monitoring of current and exited ELLs; and evaluation of the district’s ELL program.
Steven L. v. LeMahieu
This case involves claims against the Department of
Education of the State of Hawaii and various government
officials for alleged violations of Section 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) and the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Plaintiffs alleged, among other things, that defendants
intentionally discriminated against Aaron L. because of his
disability (Down Syndrome), failed to provide him with
appropriate special education services, and denied him a free
appropriate public education, all in violation of Section 504
and the IDEA. Plaintiffs sought compensatory and punitive
damages, as well as injunctive and other equitable relief.
Both defendants and plaintiffs moved for partial summary
judgment. Defendants asserted that plaintiffs' claims are
barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Plaintiffs asserted that
they should be able to demonstrate discriminatory intent, for
purposes of obtaining compensatory damages under Section 504,
with evidence that defendants acted with deliberate
indifference or conscious disregard for their federal rights.
In its intervention brief filed on May 25, 2001, the
Section defended the constitutionality of Section 504
and the IDEA. The Section also filed an amicus brief
arguing that a plaintiff seeking compensatory damages under
Section 504 may rely on the deliberate indifference standard
to prove discriminatory intent.
On June 18, 2001, the district court upheld the constitutionality of Section 504 and
the IDEA, and ruled that a plaintiff seeking compensatory damages under Section 504 may
establish intentional discrimination by showing that the defendant acted with deliberate
indifference to the plaintiff's federally protected rights.
Tehachapi Unified School District (E.D. Cal.)
On June 30, 2011, the Educational Opportunities Section of the Civil Rights Division and the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reached a resolution agreement with the Tehachapi Unified School District in Tehachapi, California, to resolve a complaint regarding the harassment of a middle school student based on his nonconformity with gender stereotypes. The complaint arose from the September 2010 death of Jacobsen Middle School student Seth Walsh, who took his own life at the age of 13. Following OCR's investigation, the Section joined OCR in working with the school district to resolve the complaint. The investigation found that Walsh suffered sexual and gender-based harassment by his peers for more than two school years because of his nonconformity with gender stereotypes.
As summarized in a detailed letter of findings, the departments determined that the harassment, which included ongoing and escalating verbal, physical and sexual harassment by other students at school, was sufficiently severe, pervasive and persistent to interfere with his educational opportunities, and that the school district failed to appropriately respond to notice of the harassment. The departments concluded that the school district violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title IV of the Civil Rights of 1964, both of which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, including harassment based on nonconformity with gender stereotypes and sexual harassment. Under the terms of the agreement, the district agreed to take a variety of steps to prevent sexual and gender-based harassment at all of its schools, to respond appropriately to harassment that occurs, and to eliminate the hostile environment resulting from harassment. These steps include adopting revised policies and procedures for handling sexual and gender-based harassment complaints, conducting trainings for faculty, staff, and students, and reporting data to OCR and DOJ for five years. For more information, please see this press release.
United States and Coleman v. Midland Independent School District
This desegregation case was in active litigation for two years when the school district moved to have the case dismissed in November 1998. Following a review of information provided by the district, a tour of district schools and subsequent rulings by the court, the parties entered into a consent order in November 1999. The agreement set forth a plan for the district to take additional steps to desegregate the school system and to eliminate vestiges of discrimination from the former segregated system.
Under the settlement, the district agreed to: (1) implement a new elementary school assignment plan and convert two historically minority schools into magnet schools; (2) eliminate general tracks in secondary schools while keeping certain advanced and gifted and talented tracks; (3) implement reforms to its bilingual education and English as a Second Language programs; (4) develop an action plan in each secondary school to increase minority participation in extracurricular activities; and (5) implement a mentoring program to identify potential minority candidates for administrative intern and teaching positions. As a result, minority enrollment increased in advanced and gifted classes, the magnet schools enrolled diverse student bodies, and the English Language Learner program was significantly improved. On September 12, 2002, the court declared the district unitary and dismissed the case.
United States, GI Forum and
LULAC v. Texas
This English Language Learner (“ELL”) case originally arose from a desegregation order entered against the State of Texas and the Texas Education Agency (“TEA”). In 1972, the League of United Latin American Citizens (“LULAC”) and GI Forum were allowed to intervene in the desegregation case as representatives of Mexican Americans in Texas. Most recently, on February 9, 2006, LULAC and GI Forum filed a motion for further relief under the statewide desegregation order and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (“EEOA”). Their motion alleges that Texas and TEA have failed to sufficiently monitor and enforce programs for ELL students in public schools across the state, thereby wrongfully denying those students equal educational opportunities.
In their briefs responding to the motion for further relief, the state defendants claimed immunity from suit under the Eleventh Amendment and argued that the EEOA failed to validly abrogate this immunity. On July 10, 2006, the Section filed a response to these briefs, asserting that the EEOA abrogated states’ Eleventh Amendment immunity because the statute constituted a reasonably tailored legislative response to a long history of unconstitutional discrimination against national origin minorities. In its August 11, 2006 memorandum opinion, the district court agreed with the Section’s analysis and held that the EEOA abrogated the state’s Eleventh Amendment immunity.
United States and Graham v. Evangeline Parish School Board
On November 30, 2007, the United States filed a motion for further relief asserting that the Evangeline Parish School Board had failed to fully implement an earlier agreed upon school reorganization plan. The United States sought additional relief, including, either, completion of certain renovations at a majority black high school, construction of a new facility at this high school, or grade restructuring and mandatory reassignment of students from other schools to eliminate the racial identifiability of the school. On December 22, 2009, after significant litigation the court entered a consent order negotiated by the parties that requires the District to take remedial measures in the areas of personnel assignment, facilities, student assignment and quality of education.
United States and Meyers v. San Juan
County School District
The Section filed a complaint alleging that defendants engaged in race discrimination
by failing to provide equal educational opportunities for the American Indian students residing in
Navajo Mountain. Specifically, the district failed to provide
a secondary school located reasonably near their place of residence,
as is done for all other students residing in the district.
Prior to the filing of this lawsuit, American Indian students
who lived in the Navajo Mountain community attended boarding
schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs 90 miles away
from home. The nearest district high school was 171 miles away
from the Navajo Mountain area.
The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. One year later, the parties
entered into a settlement agreement, and the new Navajo Mountain
High School opened for classes in 1998.
United States and Hearne Independent School District v. Texas
This case arose out of a long-standing school desegregation suit filed by the United States against the State of Texas, Texas Education Agency (“TEA”), and various school districts. In 1971, the district court entered a desegregation order that, among other things, prohibited TEA from approving or funding interdistrict student transfers that have the cumulative effect of reducing or impeding desegregation in one of the districts. In 2003, Hearne Independent School District (“Hearne”) intervened in the underlying suit, claiming that transfers from Hearne to Mumford Independent School District (“Mumford”) had reduced or impeded desegregation in Hearne, and that TEA improperly continued to fund those transfers. In 2004, the Division filed a motion to enforce the desegregation order against TEA and Mumford.
After a bench trial, the district court found that the transfers from Hearne to Mumford reduced desegregation in Hearne, that Mumford had engaged in fraudulent conduct to circumvent the requirements of the desegregation order, and that the TEA had not complied with the order. The district court enjoined Mumford from accepting–and TEA from funding–all of the transfers that reduced or impeded desegregation in Hearne. Mumford and TEA subsequently appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
On July 24, 2006, the Fifth Circuit reversed and vacated the district court’s judgment. In its opinion, the Fifth Circuit held that the district court’s factual findings were clearly erroneous and that its remedy was overly broad. The Fifth Circuit further held that Mumford could not be held liable for violating the desegregation order without a finding that it intentionally engaged in segregative conduct because it was not a party defendant to the original desegregation lawsuit.
United States and Ridley v. State of Georgia
This is a long-standing desegregation case in the District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. On November 9, 2006, the court approved a consent decree
that obliges the district to take measures in the areas of student attendance and assignment, facilities, employee assignment, and student transfers. These measures include, but are not limited to: maintaining facilities and resources at Ruth Hill, a former black school, that are comparable to those at other elementary schools; implementing new attendance zones and policies; and assigning principals and instructional staff in a manner that does not identify a school as intended for one race.
United States and Ridley v. State of Georgia
(Dublin City & Laurens County School Districts)
The Section assessed whether the Dublin City School District (Dublin) was complying with its school desegregation orders and applicable federal law. In the course of its review, the Section determined that Dublin’s ability grouping and heterogeneous class assignments were violating a desegregation order. The Section also determined that Dublin was using race-based class assignments to dissuade white students from transferring to the surrounding majority white district of Laurens County (Laurens) and that transfers from Dublin to Laurens were negatively impacting desegregation in Dublin’s schools. The Section attempted unsuccessfully to negotiate voluntary relief with Dublin and Laurens.
On April 15, 2004, the Section filed a motion and supporting memorandum to hold Dublin in contempt for its class assignment violations and for further relief against Dublin and Laurens to enforce an order governing interdistrict transfers. Dublin moved for unitary status, and the Section filed an opposition. Pursuant to the court’s instructions, the United States filed a motion to join Laurens as a necessary defendant and a supplemental complaint against Laurens.
On June 23, 2005, after extensive discovery, the United States and Dublin agreed to a consent order and a settlement agreement that resolved all issues between them, except for the interdistrict transfer issue. The consent order
, which was approved by the court on July 1, 2005, governs student assignments to classes and schools, extracurricular activities, and transportation. The settlement agreement
governs faculty, administrators, staff, gifted programs, special education, and diploma tracks. Many of the black students improperly classified as having a Mild Intellectual Disability or an Emotional/Behavioral Disorder have been exited from special education under the agreement.
On February 21, 2006, the Section moved for summary judgment against Laurens on the interdistrict transfer issue. Laurens filed an opposition, and the Section filed a reply. The Section also moved for summary judgment against Dublin. Dublin opposed by adopting Laurens’s opposition. Laurens moved for summary judgment on the transfer issue, but Dublin did not. The Section filed an opposition to Laurens’s motion and a motion to exclude Laurens’s expert report. This motion and the parties’ cross motions for summary judgment are fully briefed and pending before the court. To obtain copies of the unsealed exhibits to any of the linked documents, please call (202) 514-4092.
United States and Ridley v. State of Georgia (McDuffie)
On March 14, 2013, the Division filed a joint motion asking the court to approve a new consent order in Ridley and United States v. Georgia (McDuffie County Sch. Dist.). The consent decree modifies the zoning for elementary schools and addresses issues related to faculty hiring and assignment, the gifted program, student discipline, and transportation, and creates a path for the district to achieve unitary status after three years of compliance.
United States and Ridley v. State of Georgia (Meriwether)
This desegregation case was brought by the United States in 1969 against the State of Georgia and 81 school districts, including the Meriwether County School District (Meriwether). Charlie Ridley and others subsequently joined this action as plaintiff-intervenors. On September 17, 1969, the court issued a detailed regulatory injunction requiring that each of the individual school districts establish a fully integrated school system. Subsequently, in an Order dated July 23, 1973, the court dissolved the regulatory injunction, holding that Meriwether as well as various other school districts had complied for three years with the Supreme Court’s school desegregation mandates. The court placed the cases of these school districts on the inactive docket and entered a permanent injunction designed to prevent the recurrence of a dual system.
In the late 1980's, the litigation was reactivated when the United States and the plaintiff-intervenors moved to compel Meriwether to comply with the July 23, 1973 permanent injunction. Those proceedings resulted in an order dated June 28, 1990, which established a new student attendance zone plan, prohibited most intra-district and inter-district transfers, and required teaching and staff assignments at schools to remain within 5% of the district-wide racial percentages for teachers and staff. The court also ordered Meriwether to offer the same courses above the core curriculum at both Manchester and Greenville High Schools. In 1996, the court approved a five-year facilities plan proposed by the district. In 1999, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s approval of the plan. United States & Ridley v. State of Georgia (Meriwether Co. Bd. Of Educ.), 171 F.3d 1333 (11th Cir. 1999).
On August 28, 2003, Meriwether moved for a declaration of unitary status. The United States objected to the district’s motion. Subsequent to comprehensive discovery and negotiations, the court approved a Consent Decree on October 21, 2004, which essentially requires the district to fully implement the plan previously approved by the court and to see unitary status in 2007.
United States and Sinajini v. San Juan County School District
The Section intervened in a suit filed by plaintiffs who sought relief from violations of a court-ordered settlement agreement made between private plaintiffs and the district in 1976. The suit involved allegations that defendants failed to provide equal educational services to American Indian students in the district. Our complaint-in-intervention alleged that the district failed to provide equal educational opportunities to American Indian students and failed to provide an appropriate program of education for limited-English-proficient Navajo students. The case was settled by consent agreement and covered the issues raised in our complaint. The settlement called for the establishment of four committees to review the district's programs in general curriculum, special education, and bilingual education and to hear disputes that arise under the agreement. The district has adjusted its educational programs accordingly, including its program for students who are limited English proficient.
United States and Yonkers Branch of the NAACP v. Yonkers Board of Education
This case was brought by the Section in 1980 as both an education and housing desegregation case against the City of Yonkers, the Yonkers Board of Education (YBOE), and the Yonkers Community Development agency. The Yonkers Branch of the NAACP (NAACP) intervened as plaintiffs in 1981, and the case was certified as a class action on behalf
of all parents of minority (black and Hispanic) children attending the Yonkers Public Schools (YPS) and all minority residents of Yonkers currently residing in, or eligible to reside in, publicly assisted housing. In 1985, the district court found that the defendants
had intentionally segregated the City's public schools and housing over a forty-year period. The court order designed to desegregate the schools became known as the Educational Improvement Plan I (EIP I). EIP I, which primarily involved a magnet school program, desegregated the district with respect to student and faculty assignment.
In September 1987, the YBOE filed a cross-claim against the State of New York, alleging that the State also was liable for the prior segregation in housing and education and that there were continuing vestiges of the prior school segregation that were not being
addressed by EIP I. In 1993, the district court found that vestiges of segregation existed in the YPS but that precedent from the Second Circuit precluded the court from holding the State liable as a defendant. In 1996, a panel of the Second Circuit distinguished this
precedent and ruled that the State could be held liable for the prior segregation. In 1996,the City filed a third-party cross-claim against the State to obtain state contributions to the costs of implementing the school desegregation orders. In 1997, the district court held that the same vestiges identified in 1993 still existed in 1997, and it ordered the State and City to fund a remedial plan known as EIP II. These defendants appealed.
In June 1999, a panel of the Second Circuit initially reversed the district court's 1993
and 1997 vestiges findings and remanded the case to end the action. In a November 1999
decision, the panel withdrew the June 1999 decision, but maintained its reversal of the
vestiges findings and remanded the case to the district court to determine if any other
vestiges existed. In November 2000, the district court found that five vestiges of
segregation existed in YPS as of 1997: (1) disproportionate academic tracking of minority
students into the least demanding classes; (2) disproportionately high discipline of
minority students; (3) disproportionately high referrals of minorities to special education;
(4) inadequate pupil personnel services; and (5) inadequate services for limited-English-proficient students. The court directed the court-appointed monitor to determine whether
evidence since 1997 showed that these five vestiges still existed, and it urged the parties
to settle the case.
The Section and the other parties were actively involved in negotiations
until they reached a settlement of the case in January 2002. In March 2002,
the court conducted a fairness hearing and approved the settlement.
The settlement dismissed the education portion of the case with prejudice while retaining court jurisdiction to enforce the settlement's terms. In the settlement, the parties did not agree that the YPS was entitled to a court declaration of unitary status, but rather that the YPS was unitary with respect to the six Green factors and that disputed issues regarding vestiges were resolved by the educational programs and funding provided under the settlement. The settlement required the State to provide $300 million over a five-year period to fund over forty remedial educational programs. The settlement ended on its own terms on June 30, 2006, effectively ending the case.
United States v. Aberdeen Municipal Separate School District
In this long-standing desegregation case, a consent decree negotiated between the Section and the school district was approved by the court on October 15, 2004. The consent decree includes provisions requiring the district to: cease assigning students to classrooms in a manner that creates racially segregated classrooms; conduct an investigation of racial differences in assignment to its gifted and talented program; alter its method for assigning students to honors classes; cease allowing the use of race-conscious policies or procedures in all of its extracurricular activities; and desegregate certain bus routes.
United States v. Avoyelles Parish School Board
In this long-standing desegregation case in the Western District of Louisiana addressing a range of issues, an April 2, 2013 consent order describes specific steps the school district must take as part of its existing obligation to take remedial action regarding facilities.
United States v. Bertie County Board of Education
In this long-standing desegregation case involving the Bertie County (North Carolina) Board of Education, the Section commenced informal discovery to assess whether the school district was complying with its desegregation order and applicable federal law. Based on its review of the district, the Section identified concerns regarding the school district’s assignment of students, faculty and staff assignments, and student transfer policies. The school district and the Section engaged in good-faith negotiations about these and other issues, but were not able to develop a mutually satisfactory agreement.
On September 26, 2002, the Section filed a motion requesting further relief. In its supporting memorandum of law, the Section asked the district court to order the school district to develop a new desegregation plan that would address vestiges of segregation in student, faculty, and staff assignments as well as student transfers. On April 22, 2003, the district court issued an order granting the Section's motion and directing the school district to file a new desegregation plan to address the vestiges identified in the Section's motion.
On December 19, 2003, the school district filed its proposed desegregation plan. After discovery and negotiations, the Section filed a response to the plan on February 24, 2005. In this response, the Section objected only in part to the proposed student assignment plan, which would have failed to desegregate Askewville Elementary School to the extent practicable. The Section also recommended consideration of more effective alternatives for desegregation and raised the issue of the poor condition of JP Law Elementary School, a small historically black school with declining enrollment. The parties reached an interim agreement on these lingering issues, which culminated in a consent order entered on June 24, 2005. This order called for the reconfiguration of attendance zone lines for Askewville, an independent facilities assessment of the elementary and middle schools in the district, and the development of a new student assignment plan.
Following the completion of the facilities assessment and further negotiations, the parties reached agreement about student assignment, transfers, and facilities. This agreement, reflected in the court-approved consent order of March 17, 2006, established a timeline for closing Askewville and JP Law Elementary Schools and required the re-drawing of elementary school attendance zone lines. The order also prohibited the consideration of race in classroom assignments in other elementary schools and enumerated annual reporting requirements. Finally, the order declared that the school district had complied with its desegregation obligations with respect to transportation, extra-curricular activities, and faculty and staff assignment.
United States v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago
In 1980, the United States filed suit against the Chicago Board of Education alleging the board was violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Titles IV and VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by unlawfully segregating students in its schools on the basis of race and national origin. On the same day the United States filed its complaint, the parties filed a school desegregation consent decree the court entered on September 24, 1980.
In January 2003, the court directed the parties to examine the continued viability of the 1980 consent decree. The parties evaluated the board’s compliance with its desegregation obligations and jointly developed a modified consent decree sought to achieve the goals of the original consent decree under the changed factual and legal circumstances facing the board. On March 1, 2004, the Court approved the modified consent decree, which required the board to fulfill obligations in the following areas: student assignment; faculty assignment; facilities; transportation; compensatory and supplemental programs; desegregation funding; discipline; higher level course offerings; extracurricular activities; and English Language Learner (“ELL”) programs.
The United States moved to enforce the modified consent decree on four occasions. On one such occasion, the United States filed amotion to enforce the board’s desegregation funding obligations and its duty to provide majority-to-minority (“M-to-M transfers”). The board filed an opposition, and the United States filed a reply. On December 7, 2004, the court issued an opinion in favor of the United States. On August 26, 2005, the United States filed a motion to show cause because the board once again failed to comply with its desegregation funding duties. The board filed an opposition, and the United States filed a reply. On September 21, 2005, the court ruled that the board’s 2005-06 desegregation budget did not comply with the modified consent decree. The parties resolved this dispute through a stipulated settlement the court approved on November 9, 2005.
In the fall of 2005, the court asked the parties and amici to file position papers on whether the modified consent decree should be dismissed or continued in an altered form. The parties filed briefs requesting court approval of a second amended consent approving the parties’ settlement with slight modifications. The August 10, 2006 order requires the board to: continue magnet and specialized schools, offer M-to-M transfers, monitor open enrollment transfers to ensure they do not negatively impact desegregation, fund compensatory programs at racially isolated schools, take steps to diversify the applicant pool for principals, and provide adequate services to ELL students.
On February 16, 2008, the United States filed a motion to enforce the ELL provisions of the 2006 amended consent decree. The United States argued the board had failed to comply with these ELL provisions in three ways: (1)the board had not demonstrated 30% of its special education ELLs were appropriately served, (2) thousands of ELLs received no ELL services or untimely and inadequate ELL services, and(3)the board failed to provide native language instruction and materials for many of its Transitional Bilingual Education programs.
After conducting fact and expert discovery, the parties participated in a twelve-day trial in early 2009 regarding whether the board had achieved unitary status in all areas. At the trial, the board sought dismissal of the entire case, and the United States vigorously opposed dismissal of the ELL provisions. On February 20, 2009, the United States filed a post-trial brief, urging the court to require the board to file a proposal regarding how it intends to operate the magnet and specialized schools so the court can assess the board’s good faith, and to order appropriate relief to ensure ELLs receive the services required by the August 10, 2006 order. The parties await a ruling from the court.
On February 20, 2009, the United States filed a post-trial brief, urging the court to require the board to file a proposal regarding how it intends to operate the magnet and specialized schools so the court can assess the board’s good faith, and to order appropriate relief to ensure ELLs receive the services required by the August 10, 2006 order. On September 3, 2009, the United States filed a supplemental brief in light of the Supreme Court ruling in Horne v. Flores. On September 24, 2009, the court vacated the August 10, 2006 order and dismissed the case.
United States v. Board of Education of Milan
In this longstanding desegregation case, January 7, 2009, the Court entered a consent decree negotiated by the parties finds the district unitary in all areas except student assignment and quality of education. Pursuant to the terms of the consent decree, the District will seek the Southeastern Equity Center’s assistance in the administration of disciplinary measures and ensuring students equal access to admission in the District’s gifted programs.
United States v. Board of Education of Valdosta City
This school desegregation lawsuit was initiated by the United States on November 30, 1970. On April 1, 1971, the court ordered defendants to implement a desegregation plan, which was modified by subsequent court orders in 1979, 1981, and 1992. On June 30, 2008, the court approved a consent decree declaring the school district partially unitary in the areas of student assignment, transportation, extracurricular activities, and facilities. To address the United States' concerns that a number of Valdosta's schools were racially identifiable in terms of the demographics of school-based personnel, the 2008 consent decree required the Board to take additional steps to meet its obligations in the areas of faculty and staff. The Board was required to develop personnel policies and procedures related to the recruitment, hiring, and assignment of faculty and certified staff; to assign school-based personnel so that no school would be racially identifiable by its faculty; to maintain applications for employment for a three-year period; and to submit periodic compliance reports to the United States and the court. On March 21, 2011, the Board filed a motion for unitary status and motion to dismiss. The United States, finding that the Board had not fully complied with the terms of the 2008 Consent Decree, opposed the Board's motions in a response filed on November 21, 2011. Following settlement negotiations, the parties agreed to a consent order, approved by the court on February 29, 2012, which modifies and extends the terms of the 2008 Consent Decree for two years. Pursuant to the 2012 Consent Order, the Board agreed to withdraw its motion for unitary status and motion to dismiss. For more information on the 2012 Consent Order, please see this press release.
United States v. Calhoun County School District
In this desegregation case, the United States determined that the Calhoun County school district was permitting students to transfer to any school in the district without regard to the impact these transfers had on the school district's desegregation obligations. The United States and the school district agreed on a transfer policy that governs the transfer of students within the school district and to other school districts. The parties presented the transfer policy as part of a consent decree that was submitted to the federal district court for its consideration and approval. In 2004, the parties also agreed to the consolidation of all middle school grades at one school located in the district. This agreement was approved by the court and became effective in the 2004-05 school year.
United States v. City of New York (Lafayette High School)
In 2001, the Section received complaints from Asian students at Lafayette High School (LHS) in Brooklyn, NY that alleged numerous instances of national origin discrimination. This discrimination took many forms, ranging from inadequate services for English Language Learner (ELL) students to school officials’ indifferent reaction to persistent verbal and physical peer harassment of Asian students. In one well-publicized case, four Chinese students returning to LHS for their senior year were informed that they had graduated the previous year, though guidance counselors had erroneously informed them otherwise. School officials initially prohibited the graduated students from returning to high school for an additional year of college preparation, notwithstanding the fact that it was too late for them to apply for college admission or receive financial aid. In other cases, Asian students at LHS who assumed they were on track to graduate were forced to return for additional semesters after falling one or two credits short of their graduation requirement when counselors failed to schedule them for the correct classes.
After a lengthy investigation the United States filed a complaint against the City of New York and the Board of Education of the New York City School District on February 2, 2004. The United States alleged violations of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act stemming from defendants’ failure to ameliorate the hostile environment for Asian students at LHS, and further charged that defendants violated the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA) by failing to take appropriate action to help ELL students overcome their language barriers. Four months later, the parties entered into a consent decree that obliged defendants to develop a compliance plan to remedy the transgressions alleged in the United States’ complaint. The Section, in collaboration with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York, is currently monitoring the defendants’ performance under the compliance plan to ensure that there is no recurrence of the events that gave rise to the complaint.
United States v. Commonwealth of Virginia (VMI)
The Section brought suit against Virginia in 1990 under Title IV of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964, after receiving a signed, written complaint from a female high school student in
Virginia about the males-only admission policy of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). In 1996,
the Supreme Court ruled that Virginia had failed to justify its exclusion of women from VMI's
unique educational program.
Following the Supreme Court's decision and VMI's admission of women in 1997, the
Section monitored the integration of women into the institution. As a result of a March 21,
2000 Order requiring Virginia to provide more extensive information on its integration efforts at
VMI, the Section reviewed reports regarding male and female students in the areas of
recruitment and admissions, retention, financial aid, gender relations, physical training, and
women's varsity athletics. The Section worked cooperatively with Virginia to resolve its
concerns arising from information contained in the reports, and, as a result, the parties signed and
the court entered a Joint Motion for Dismissal on December 6, 2001.
United States v. Cotton Plant School District #1 (Watson Chapel School District #24)
In this school desegregation case, the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil
Rights (OCR) referred a complaint alleging, among other things, that the district discriminates on the basis of race by transporting black students from the Sulphur Springs Elementary School (Sulphur Springs) attendance zone to other schools
in the district to maintain Sulphur Springs as a virtually all-white school. The Section
nvestigated the complaint by visiting the district, meeting the community members, and
interviewing black parents in the Sulphur Spring community. The Section determined that
the district had pursued discriminatory policies and practices that had perpetuated Sulphur Springs as an identifiably white school in a majority-black district.
The parties attempted to negotiate a settlement but were unsuccessful. On July
30, 2001, the Division filed a motion for further
relief and request for preliminary injunction with supporting memorandum
in federal district court. On August 9, 2001, the court held a hearing in
which the Section presented evidence about the district's discriminatory policies.
Specifically, the district adopted a de facto freedom of choice plan
in which a discretionary (un-advertised) attendance policy required that students
affirmatively request assignment to the school. In effect, white students
from within and outside the zone "opted-in" and requested assignment and black
students did not. Eligible black students living within Sulphur Springs attendance
zone were bused past the school to attend an elementary school farther away.
At the same time, white students living outside the attendance zone were assigned
to Sulphur Springs. Though the court denied the United States' request for
a preliminary injunction to have the district immediately enjoined from further
operation of Sulphur Springs until it adopted a plan to fully desegregate the
school, the court ruled that the district must implement a new desegregation
plan for Sulphur Springs prior to the beginning of the 2002-03 school year.
On November 13, 2001, the district proposed to close Sulphur Springs permanently after
the 2001-02 school year. On December 13, 2001, in the United States' Response to
Defendant's Proposed Attendance Plan for Sulphur Springs Elementary School, the
Section interposed no objection to the district's proposal to close the school.
United States v. Covington County School District
In this long-standing desegregation case involving the Covington County (Mississippi) School District, the Section had concerns about the district’s two virtually one-race schools, how the district’s staff assignment and school construction have reinforced those two virtually one-race schools, and the district’s use of race in extracurricular activities and awards (to include race-based homecoming queens). Despite the fact that the district overall enrolled about half-black students and half-white students, the district nevertheless maintained one virtually one-race black elementary school, Hopewell (grades K-6), and one virtually one-race white attendance center, Seminary (grades K-12), that enrolled over 60% of all of the white students in the district. Hopewell is the only school in the district without a neighborhood middle or high school. Upon graduating from Hopewell, Hopewell students attended grades 7-12 at a majority black middle and high school (ranked passing and Level III in academic achievement by the state) about 10-12 minutes by bus from Seminary (ranked highest achieving and Level V in academic achievement by the state). The district and the Section engaged in good-faith negotiations about these and other issues, but were not able to develop a mutually satisfactory agreement.
On November 25, 2003, the Section filed a motion requesting further relief and a memorandum of law in support of that motion. In its filings, the Section asked the district court to order the school district to develop a new desegregation plan that would address vestiges of segregation in student assignment, staff assignment, school construction, and extracurricular activities.
On April 28, 2005, the United States filed a motion for partial summary judgment, challenging the district’s race-based extracurricular activities. The district then agreed to enter into a Consent Decree that required it to cease any practices utilizing a student’s race, color, or national origin in the selection or eligibility for participation in any extracurricular activity and to develop written racially non-discriminatory extracurricular activity policies.
On March 8, 2006, after additional discovery and extensive settlement discussions, the district and the United States entered into a Consent Decree resolving the remaining issues in the case. As a result of this Consent Decree, the district made the following modifications, among others, to its existing desegregation plan for the following school year: (1) all students attending Hopewell for grades K-6 will attend Seminary for grades 7-12, thereby eventually desegregating Seminary for grades 7-12; (2) the district committed to publicize its Majority-to-Minority transfer program; (3) the district committed to implement a compensatory enrichment program at Hopewell (a pre-K program) with the primary purpose to “enhance education” at Hopewell and the secondary purpose to “encourage white students who reside in other attendance zones” to attend Hopewell; (4) the district is required to conduct a facilities organization study and to submit all plans for construction and renovation to the United States prior to commencing any construction and renovation at Seminary; and (5) the district is required to engage in a comprehensive analysis of the bus routes for Hopewell students in order to reduce the length of all such bus routes to the extent practicable.
United States & Mellette v. Jones
This case involved a challenge to the males-only admissions policy of The Citadel, a public military-style college in South Carolina. The Section intervened as a plaintiff in the lawsuit originally brought by Shannon Faulkner, for whom Nancy Mellette was later substituted. In June 1996, in a case brought by the Section, the Supreme Court invalidated the males-only admissions policy of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), a similar public military-style college in Virginia.
Following the Supreme Court's decision, the Board of Visitors of The Citadel voted to admit women to its Corps of Cadets, and, in August 1996, four women joined the entering class of students. When allegations surfaced in December 1996 that two of the women had been harassed and physically abused, the United States initiated an investigation into The Citadel's assimilation efforts. This investigation was separate and apart from the contemporaneous criminal investigation initiated by federal and state law enforcement authorities.
Subsequently the court required The Citadel to submit a revised plan for the assimilation of women. This led to a consent order that, among other things, required The Citadel to: hire a full-time Assistant Commandant to coordinate the assimilation of women into the Corps of Cadets, a fulltime Dean of Women and a full-time recruiter to coordinate female recruitment efforts; institute regular, mandatory sexual harassment-prevention training of all students and staff; undertake specific efforts to recruit women; develop formal assessment tools to evaluate assimilation; hire and station eight additional adult officers in each of the barracks to increase supervision; establish a female assimilation study group to evaluate assimilation efforts and make reports to the president of the college; promptly complete all facilities modifications to accommodate women in all barracks; revise school publications to eliminate sex-restrictive language; and establish informal complaint reporting mechanisms, including the establishment of a college Ombudsman to serve as a confidential recipient of complaints of harassment or abuse. On March 28, 2002, the court entered an agreed order of dismissal to which the parents had agreed, thereby dismissing the case.
United States v. Lincoln Parish School Board
This school desegregation lawsuit was initiated by the United States on June 8, 1966. In a decree dated August 1, 1969, the Court ordered a desegregation plan for the district's schools, subsequently modified by a 1970 order and 1971 consent decree. Pursuant to a Fifth Circuit Decision, dated July 13, 1979, the public laboratory schools at Grambling State University and Louisiana Tech University were added to the case. A 1984 consent decree addressed the desegregation obligations of the lab schools. In 2011, following a unitary status review, the Department of Justice submitted a status report to the Court identifying areas of noncompliance by the defendants. The school board filed responses to the status report on September 15, 2011 and October 15, 2011. Grambling State University and Louisiana Tech University each filed responses on October 17, 2011. Following negotiations, the Department of Justice and the school board submitted a superseding consent order, approved by the Court on May 24, 2012, which granted the Board partial unitary status in the areas of faculty, staff, transportation, extracurricular activities, and facilities. The superseding consent order required the board to implement a school pairing plan to desegregate the four K-5 elementary schools in the board's Ruston attendance zone and to implement revised intra-district student transfer policies. For additional information on the superseding consent order, please see this press release.
United States v. Lowndes County School District
In 2002 and 2003, private plaintiffs brought suits against the he Lowndes County school district asserting non-compliance with its desegregation obligations, primarily in West Lowndes, an almost all-black area of the district, pursuant to a pursuant to a desegregation order that the district has been operating under since 1970. In 2004, these complaints were consolidated with the United States’ case, and in January 2006, the Court signed aconsent orderrequiring the district to make significant changes to further desegregation. The district was to make improvements to the virtually all-black high school to make them comparable to the majority white high schools including disctrict requirements to: purchase land adjacent to the West Lowndes High School and build a baseball field, upgrade facilites at the virtually all-black high school to make them comparable to the majority white high schools, create band and football practice fields at the virtually all-black high school, remedy short-comings at the virtually all-black elementary and middle schools including upgrading certain classrooms, renovating an auditorium/gymnasium, and removing unseemly sewage lagoons on these premises, implement educational programming at the West Lowndes Middle and High Schools to foster future AP and advanced classes at the high school, teaching advanced classes (AP) on par with the array of course offerings at the majority white schools even if only requested by one child, and to cease using race-conscious policies in the selection of extracurricular activities such as class superlatives and homecoming courts.
In 2007, the Section determined the district was not in compliance with the 2006 order. Nonetheless, on August 21, 2008, the District filed a motion for unitary status. The Section opposed the district’s motion and moved to enforce the 2006 order on the grounds the district: (1) failed to built a baseball facility as ordered (2) failed to install facilities improvements properly resulting in leaks at the entryway to the building; (3) failed to develop policies and procedures related to advanced instruction; and (4) failed to recognize continued complaints of racial harassment and discrimination by community in the district’s majority white schools. On October 15, 2008, the parties withdrew their motions, initiated negotiations, and on February 3, 2009, the court entered a consent order requiring the district to repair the baseball field and entryway at the virtually-all-black high school, develop and support an advanced instruction curriculum (AP) at the virtually-all-black middle school and high school, and adopt and implement a non-discrimination policy to systemically address continued community and parent concerns.
United States v. Marion County School District
In 1978, the United States sued the Marion County School District (Florida) for maintaining a segregated school system. In 1983, the district court approved a Stipulated Agreement of the parties that, among other things, implemented a plan for further desegregation of the district, including the conversion of two de jure and almost 100% black schools into a district-wide magnet. Since that time, the court entered a decree in 1995 and a modified decree in 2004 to resolve the outstanding desegregation issues. The 2004 modified decree clarified the requirements in the 1995 decree and set forth detailed provisions regarding student assignment (including a policy on out-of-area transfers), the magnet schools, new school construction, staff assignment and recruitment, and the district's reporting obligations.
United States v. Port Arthur Independent School District
After finding noncompliance with the extant desegregation order in this case, the Division negotiated a settlement agreement with the district in 2001. In 2003, the school district moved for unitary status and dismissal of the case despite its noncompliance with the 2001 agreement. The Division filed an
opposition to the motion on grounds of noncompliance. Following briefing on the issues, the parties negotiated a new agreement that required the district to take specified steps in the areas of student and faculty assignment. Under the agreement, the district agreed to establish a magnet program at a historically black school, to strictly enforce its student transfer policies, and to assign faculty and staff in a way that does not perpetuate the historic racial identifiability of the district's schools. In 2007, the district again moved for unitary status. The Division filed an opposition and a motion for further relief on the grounds that the district had failed to comply with the portions of the 2003 agreement pertaining to transfer policies and faculty assignment.
United States v. Richland Parish School Board
On July 21, 1966, the United States initiated this lawsuit against the Richland Parish School District. On July 31, 1969, the Court entered a decree setting forth a plan to desegregate the school district. In 2010, the United States with the cooperation of the School Board began a comprehensive review of the School Board’s compliance with its obligations under the operative court orders in this case. Upon completion of its review, the United States concluded that the School Board satisfied the requirements for unitary status with respect to facilities, extracurricular activities, and transportation. On March 17, 2013, the Court granted the District’s consent order declaring partial unitary status and dismissal in the areas of facilities, transportation and extracurricular activities. The parties continue to negotiate the remaining areas of student assignment, faculty, and staff.
United States v. State of Mississippi (McComb Municipal Separate School District)
In this desegregation case, the Section determined the McComb Municipal Separate School District had violated the terms of the governing desegregation order and federal law by clustering white students into particular classrooms in a manner resulted in a significant number of segregated, all-black classrooms at the District’s two elementary schools. Additionally, the District was impermissibly using raced-based procedures to select students for certain school-sponsored accolades, including McComb High School’s homecoming queen and court. These procedures had the effect of establishing separate elections for black and white candidates.
In March 2004, the district moved for unitary status. The United States filed a response and a motion for further relief. After discovery, the United States filed an opposition to the District’s motion for unitary status, which stated the United States' objections to unitary status in the areas of student assignment and extracurricular activities, but stipulated to unitary status and dismissal in the areas of transportation, hiring of faculty and administrators, facilities, and resource management. On July 13, 2006, the Court held a hearing to address the areas of dispute. The Court issued a memorandum opinion and order on April 18, 2008, that denied the district’s motion for unitary status and ordered the district to devise an assignment policy that results in meaningful racial interaction for all of the students attending the two elementary schools in question. To execute the requirements of the Court’s order, the court entered a consent decree on September 18, 2008, negotiated by the parties that establishes protocols for student assignment at the two elementary schools and establishes voting procedures for McComb High School’s homecoming court.
The Simpson County School District is under a desegregation order and a 1983 Consent Decree
specifically governing employment procedures. The District moved for unitary status in November
2001, and the United States thereafter participated in discovery to evaluate the district's
progress toward complete desegregation. The United States learned in March 2003 that the District
was not following the specific hiring procedures mandated by the 1983 Consent Decree. To address
allegations of racial discrimination in employment, the Consent Decree requires the District
actively to recruit black applicants for faculty and administrative positions and to do so by
advertising all such vacancies outside the district in regional newspapers and with various
universities in the state. The District, however, followed a policy of advertising vacancies first
within the District and then outside the district only if no qualified applicants were found within.
The United States learned that the District sought to fill three vacancies in principal positions
this past winter following that practice rather than the procedures mandated by the Consent Decree.
Because the District employed no black personnel with the administrative certification necessary for
the positions, the District made the positions available only to white persons and considered no
black applicants for the job. The practice therefore contravened the purpose of the 1983 Consent
Decree, and the United States filed a motion with a
supporting memorandum in April 2003 and a reply
to enforce the employment procedures detailed therein. A hearing was held on the motion in July 2003,
and the court subsequently granted the United States' motion. The court's
order required the District to reopen the three principal
positions for the 2004-05 school year and to advertise the vacancies according to the requirements of
the Consent Decree. Subsequently, the district moved for unitary status and we opposed. The court ruled in our favor and the district has appealed.
United States v. The School District of Philadelphia and The School Reform Commission (E.D.P.A.)
In December of 2009, the Section received a complaint from the Asian American Legal Defense Fund (AALDEF) on behalf of community advocates and Asian students at South Philadelphia High School (SPHS) in Philadelphia, PA that alleged numerous instances of national origin discrimination. This discrimination took many forms, including indifferent reaction to persistent verbal and physical peer harassment of Asian students. This discrimination culminated in one well-publicized instance where Asian students were violently attacked by their peers in and around school grounds. These attacks led to roughly a dozen Asian students being sent to the hospital, twenty-two suspension hearings and the transfer of several students to disciplinary or other schools.
After a lengthy investigation the United States filed a complaint and settlement agreement against the School District of Philadelphia and the School Reform Commission on December 15, 2010. The United States alleged violations of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act stemming from defendants’ failure to ameliorate the hostile environment for Asian students at SPHS, and further charged that defendants violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution due to their deliberate indifference to known instances of severe and pervasive harassment. The settlement agreement obliges defendants to develop an action plan to remedy the transgressions alleged in the United States’ complaint. The Section, in collaboration with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, is currently monitoring the defendants’ performance under the action plan to ensure that there is no recurrence of the events that gave rise to the complaint.
United States v. Tunica County School District
In this school construction case, the Section investigated the school district's plans to build a new elementary school in a particular section of Tunica County, Mississippi. This district has a majority black population, and concerns were raised that the proposed school would serve primarily white students and would cause further housing segregation in the county.
Because the school district was under order to desegregate its schools, the district had to obtain the court's approval for its plan. The Section submitted a brief providing the relevant legal standards for evaluating both the need for a new school and the appropriateness of the proposed location. Shortly thereafter, the parties entered into a consent order. As a result of the November 29, 1999 consent order, the District’s new elementary school was built two miles south of the originally proposed location, at a site that is closer to existing black communities.
United States v. West Carroll Parish School District
In the course of reviewing the West Carroll Parish school district's compliance with its desegregation orders, the Section identified zone jumping within the district and student transfers from outside of the district. As a result, the United States negotiated Agreed Modifications to the Residency Verification and Transfer Provisions of the 1991 Consent Order, which were approved by the Court on August 11, 2003. The Section continues to monitor the district’s compliance with these strengthened transfer obligations and the elimination of its race-based homecoming election practices.
To address the persistence of three virtually all white schools and two other racially identifiable schools in this eight-school district, the Section proposed five student assignment plans to further school desegregation. The district rejected the proposed plans, and the Section filed a motion for further relief on November 29, 2005. The United States argued that the district never desegregated these three white schools and that the pre-Swann desegregation plan implemented by the district falls short of eliminating the vestiges of discrimination to the extent practicable. The district filed an opposition, which also served as a motion for unitary status, and the Section filed a reply.
On December 22, 2006, the United States filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the evidence obtained in discovery established that the district had failed to eliminate its one-race schools to the extent practicable. The district moved for summary judgment on the grounds that it had achieved unitary status in the area of student assignment to schools. The United States filed an opposition to the district's motion on January 12, 2007, and a reply in support of its own motion on January 26, 2007. On February 14, 2007, the court issued a ruling granting the United States' summary judgment motion and denying that of the district. The court found that the district had failed to eliminate the vestiges of discrimination to the extent practicable and ordered that the trial set for February 26, 2007, proceed to consider an appropriate student assignment plan. In lieu of going to trial, the district and the United States reached agreement on a new desegregation plan in a three-year consent order, which the court approved on March 21, 2007.
University of California, San Diego
On April 10, 2012, the Educational Opportunities Section of the Civil Rights Division and the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reached a resolution agreement with the University of California, San Diego ("UCSD"), in San Diego, Calif., to resolve an investigation into complaints of racial harassment against African-American students on campus.
The investigation and settlement focused on multiple incidents beginning in February 2010, including public displays of nooses and a Ku Klux Klan-style hood, and the hosting of an off-campus party where students were invited to dress as stereotypes of African-Americans, as well as UCSD's response to the incidents. Following DOJ's and OCR's investigation, UCSD voluntarily entered into a resolution agreement with the departments.
Under the terms of the resolution agreement, UCSD will take steps to prevent racial harassment on campus, respond appropriately to harassment that occurs, and eliminate any hostile environment resulting from harassment. The university has agreed to revise its campus policies and procedures related to racial harassment to ensure they are consistent with federal civil rights laws; maintain an Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination to receive, investigate, and resolve complaints of harassment and discrimination; and provide mandatory trainings for staff and students on the university's anti-discrimination policies and procedures. The university also voluntarily initiated a number of additional programs to address campus climate issues, and the departments will monitor the implementation of those programs to evaluate their impact on resolving the departments' concerns. For more information, please see this press release.
University of Montana-Missoula
On May 1, 2012, the Civil Rights Division formally launched a Title IX compliance review and Title IV investigation of the University of Montana-Missoula's (the University) handling of student reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment. That same day, the Division launched a companion investigation of the University's campus police under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (Section 14141), and the anti-discrimination provisions of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (Safe Streets Act). See May 1, 2012 Press Release.
Shortly thereafter, the Division combined its Title IX compliance review with one initiated by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Title IX and Title IV both prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs. After conducting numerous interviews and an extensive review of the University's policies, grievance procedures, investigative practices, training, and responses to reports of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and retaliation, the Division and OCR identified a number of areas where the University needed to take further steps to ensure compliance with Title IX and Title IV.
On May 9, 2013, the Division and OCR reached a resolution agreement with the University to resolve their findings under Title IX and Title IV, and the Division reached a separate agreement to resolve its findings under Section 14141 and the Safe Streets Act. Under the terms of the Title IX-Title IV agreement, the University agreed to take significant, additional steps to: prevent sexual harassment and assault; to respond promptly and effectively to reports of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and retaliation; and to fully eliminate the effects of the hostile environment resulting from such harassment. These steps include: adopting revised policies and procedures for handling sex-based discrimination complaints, conducting training for all employees and students, disseminating information more clearly and broadly about how to report sexual harassment and assault, conducting annual climate surveys to assess students' knowledge of these issues and any barriers to their reporting, and evaluating the effect of the Agreement's remedies over time to ensure that they are effective. The Division and OCR will carefully monitor the University's implementation of the Agreement to ensure that the relief it provides reaches students quickly.
Westfield High School L.I.F.E. Club v. Westfield Public Schools
On January 13, 2003, the Westfield High School L.I.F.E. Club and some of its student members filed a complaint and motion for preliminary injunction, alleging that the Westfield Public Schools and officials discriminated against their religious beliefs by refusing to allow them to distribute pamphlets containing a religious message, even though defendants permitted the distribution of secular pamphlets by these same students the year before. The plaintiffs alleged that this violated their rights to freedom of speech under the First Amendment, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and their rights to equal protection under the laws pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment.
The United States filed a motion to participate as amicus curiae in this matter, as the United States is charged with enforcement of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which authorizes the Attorney General to seek relief if a school deprives students of the equal protections of the laws. The Court granted the United States' motion on February 26, 2003.
The United States filed a brief in support of plaintiffs' preliminary injunction. The United States argued that the school's restrictions on plaintiffs' speech violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments proscribing government regulations of speech that discriminate against a particular point of view – here a religious viewpoint.
On March 17, 2003, the Court granted the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, enjoining defendants from prohibiting the students and the L.I.F.E. Club from distributing literature to fellow students, during non-instructional time, based on the content of the literature.
On June 16, 2003, the Court entered a Consent Decree in which the district agreed to use a revised Free Speech Policy and not to impose any prior restraints upon the plaintiffs to distribute literature unless the distribution failed to comply with the policy.
Worcester Public School District
In this matter involving the Worcester, Massachusetts public school system, the Section conducted a review to determine whether the district was providing appropriate instruction and services to English Language Learner (“ELL”) students as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA). After determining that the school district was not complying with the requirements of the EEOA, the United States entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement with the school district on January 26, 2009. This agreement addressed, among other things, the school district’s obligation for ELL's to: establish protocols for registeration and identification, train faculty and intake staff concerning proper data entry for tracking, ensure timely, adequate and appropriate ELL services, to provide translation services for parents and guardians, training for ELL teachers, appropriate materials for ELL classes, ensurespecial education students are not denied appropriate ELL services, to and both monitor current and exited ELLs.