Types of National Origin Discrimination in Schools
Dismantling Barriers to Enrollment and Registration
Public schools must be open to all students. Unfortunately, students are sometimes discouraged or prevented from enrolling in their local schools because of their national origin (including the country or part of the world they or their family members were born in or are from, their ethnicity or perceived ethnic background, or the language they speak) or their immigration status (whether they are undocumented). The Department of Justice and the Department of Education have published a fact sheet on national origin discrimination for parents and students that helps explain what barriers to enrollment look like, and what steps families can take in response.
Examples of barriers that can deny students equal access to school include:
- Refusing to enroll students based on their immigration status or national origin.
- Requiring certain information in the registration process that prevents undocumented or other immigrant students from enrolling, such as social security numbers, proof of citizenship, or original birth certificates, and refusing to consider alternative documentation.
- Steering or diverting recent immigrants away from their public schools and into segregated alternative programs that provide fewer resources and services.
- Failing to remove language barriers in the registration process for parents who have limited English proficiency, and who need translation or interpretation services.
Under federal law, students have the right to attend their local public school regardless of their national origin, or their or their parents’ immigration status. The Department of Justice and the Department of Education have also issued guidance to school districts describing how school enrollment and registration practices can comply with federal law.
If you would like to share information about a district’s potentially discriminatory enrollment or registration practices, please visit the Civil Rights Division Portal.
Protecting Access and Opportunity for Students Learning English
Under the Equal Educational Opportunities Act, public schools must overcome language barriers when serving their students. For students who are learning English (“English Learners”), districts must provide instruction and services to help those students fully participate in their school's educational program. This means appropriate support in learning English, as well as in learning the material in their general education classes, such as math, science, and social studies. The Department of Justice and the Department of Education have issued extensive guidance describing how programs and services can comply with federal law.
In our enforcement work, we have required districts to improve how they serve students learning English in a number of different ways. For example, we have worked to make sure districts:
- Provide English Learners with appropriate instruction on the English language.
- Provide services that permit English Learners to participate in core content classes, such as math, science, or social studies.
- Properly identify students who need programs or services for learning the English language.
- Ensure teachers working with English Learners are properly qualified and trained.
- Provide students who are both English Learners and students with disabilities with all the services and supports they are entitled to.
- Ensure that English Learners have access to gifted and talented programs and advanced courses.
- Communicate about programming and services with parents who have limited English proficiency.
If you would like to share concerns about a district’s language assistance program or services, please visit the Civil Rights Division Portal.
Confronting Harassment and Bullying Based on National Origin
Harassment or bullying of a student stemming from prejudice or unfounded fears about their national origin (including the country or part of the world they or their family members were born in or are from, their ethnicity or perceived ethnic background, or the language they speak), or their religion can have devastating effects on the student and their family. Federal law protects students who are targeted on these bases. School officials must take prompt and appropriate action to respond to complaints of harassment or bullying based on national origin or religion. When school districts fail to take appropriate action, the Department of Justice may be able to help by enforcing federal law.
The Department of Justice and the Department of Education have created resources to support students and families facing these forms of harassment , including a fact sheet focused on combating harassment against Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander and Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian students, and a fact sheet focused on COVID-19 related harassment of Asian American and Pacific Islander students. If you would like to share information about a district’s response to harassment and bullying, please visit the Civil Rights Division Portal.