OCR: Office for Civil Rights
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Dear Colleague Letter: Passage of the California Civil Rights Initiative, Proposition 209

U.S. Department of Education
The Secretary
March 19, 1997

Dear Colleague:

I am writing to address certain questions that may be raised in the wake of the passage of the California Civil Rights Initiative, Proposition 209, regarding the responsibilities of California's school districts and colleges under educational programs and civil rights laws administered by this Department. I want to confirm that the passage of Proposition 209, which would generally prohibit affirmative action under state law for women and racial minorities, has not changed the obligation of school districts and colleges to abide by federal civil rights statutes in order to remain eligible to receive Department funding, nor has it changed the obligations of schools participating in a small number of federal programs administered by the Department to consider race, as appropriate, under the terms of those programs. In addition, I want to express my continuing support for appropriately-tailored affirmative action measures, which are important tools in our efforts to ensure that all students achieve to high standards.

As a preliminary matter, please be advised that the implementation of Proposition 209 has been enjoined by the federal district court hearing the constitutional challenge to Proposition 209 brought in the case entitled Coalition for Economic Equity v. Wilson, pending the outcome of the case. Regardless of the outcome of the constitutional challenge to Proposition 209, all school districts and colleges, including those receiving funding from the Department of Education, must ensure that they adhere to the requirements of the federal civil rights laws. Students and other beneficiaries of programs administered by schools and colleges receiving Department of Education funds are protected from discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin, as guaranteed by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000d. These institutions also must ensure that students and employees are not subjected to discrimination on the basis of gender pursuant to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. 1681. School districts and colleges have an affirmative duty under these federal civil rights statutes to eliminate the effects of prior discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, or gender. The passage of Proposition 209 has not changed the obligation of school districts and colleges to abide by these federal civil rights statutes in order to remain eligible to participate in Department programs.

To ensure that school districts and colleges in California comply with the requirements of Title VI and Title IX, the Department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will continue to investigate complaints that these federal statutes have been violated and, if Proposition 209 does go into effect, will assess its implementation in light of federal statutory requirements. By its terms, Proposition 209 does not affect any activity that is necessary to maintain eligibility for federal funding. Of course, institutions that are implementing compliance plans that have been approved by OCR under Title VI or Title IX must continue to comply with those plans in order to remain eligible for Departmental funding.

There are two Department programs that include race-targeted measures regarding the selection of beneficiaries, in addition to others that include race-targeted recruitment and outreach efforts. Under the Department's Magnet Schools Assistance Program, race-targeted measures often may be necessary to meet the desegregation purposes of the program, 20 U.S.C. 7201. The Department also administers the Program to Encourage Minority Students to Become Teachers, which was enacted by Congress as part of the Higher Education Act, 20 U.S.C. 1112a, et seq., to encourage students from minority backgrounds to become elementary or secondary school teachers. California colleges and school districts have received grants under these programs.

The Department of Education continues to be available as a resource to provide technical assistance to educational institutions in California to enable them to meet their obligations under federal civil rights statutes and to maintain eligibility for federal financial assistance. Enclosed is a list of Department employees who may be contacted for that assistance.

In closing, let me assure you that just as I remain committed to fulfilling the mandates of both Title VI and Title IX by requiring the elimination of discrimination based on race, national origin, or gender, I continue to believe that appropriately-tailored affirmative action measures are educationally sound tools to remedy the effects of prior discrimination and to foster diversity at educational institutions. The number of colleges with affirmative action admissions and financial aid programs attests to the experience of many front line educators that diversity is needed to improve the quality of education for all students.

Yours sincerely,
Richard W. Riley

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Last Modified: 03/14/2005