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    and aggressively to the racial harassment when they first became aware of it, the school might have prevented the escalation of violence that occurred.13
  • Over the course of a school year, school employees at a junior high school received reports of several incidents of anti-Semitic conduct at the school.  Anti-Semitic graffiti, including swastikas, was scrawled on the stalls of the school bathroom.  When custodians discovered the graffiti and reported it to school administrators, the administrators ordered the graffiti removed but took no further action.  At the same school, a teacher caught two ninth-graders trying to force two seventh-graders to give them money.  The ninth-graders told the seventh-graders, “You Jews have all of the money, give us some.”  When school administrators investigated the incident, they determined that the seventh-graders were not actually Jewish.  The school suspended the perpetrators for a week because of the serious nature of their misconduct.  After that incident, younger Jewish students started avoiding the school library and computer lab because they were located in the corridor housing the lockers of the ninth-graders.  At the same school, a group of eighth-grade students repeatedly called a Jewish student “Drew the dirty Jew.”  The responsible eighth-graders were reprimanded for teasing the Jewish student. 
    The school administrators failed to recognize that anti-Semitic harassment can trigger responsibilities under Title VI.  While Title VI does not cover discrimination based solely on religion,14 groups that face discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics may not be denied protection under Title VI on the ground that they also share a common faith.  These principles apply not just to Jewish students, but also to students from any discrete religious group that shares, or is perceived to share, ancestry or ethnic characteristics (e.g., Muslims or Sikhs).  Thus, harassment against students who are members of any religious group triggers a school’s Title VI responsibilities when the harassment is based on the group’s actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, rather than solely on its members’ religious practices.  A school also has responsibilities under Title VI when its students are harassed based on their actual or perceived citizenship or residency in a country whose residents share a dominant religion or a distinct religious identity.15 
    In this example, school administrators should have recognized that the harassment was based on the students’ actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic identity as Jews (rather than on the students’ religious practices).  The school was not relieved of its responsibilities under Title VI because the targets of one of the incidents were not actually Jewish.  The harassment was still based on the perceived ancestry or ethnic characteristics of the targeted students.  Furthermore, the harassment negatively affected the ability and willingness of Jewish students to participate fully in the school’s

13 More information about the applicable legal standards and OCR’s approach to investigating allegations of harassment on the basis of race, color, or national origin is included in Racial Incidents and Harassment Against Students at Educational Institutions:  Investigative Guidance, 59 Fed. Reg. 11,448 (Mar. 10, 1994), available at http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/race394.html
14 As noted in footnote seven, DOJ has the authority to remedy discrimination based solely on religion under Title IV.  
15 More information about the applicable legal standards and OCR’s approach to investigating complaints of discrimination against members of religious groups is included in OCR’s Dear Colleague Letter:  Title VI and Title IX Religious Discrimination in Schools and Colleges (Sept. 13, 2004), available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/religious-rights2004.html.


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Last Modified: 10/26/2010