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Shared Ancestry or Ethnic Characteristics

image title: title ix religious exemptionThe civil rights laws enforced by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) protect all students from discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and age. None of the laws that OCR enforces expressly address religious discrimination. However, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) protects students of any religion from discrimination, including harassment, based on a student’s actual or perceived:

  • shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, or
  • citizenship or residency in a country with a dominant religion or distinct religious identity.

For example, OCR can investigate complaints that students were subjected to ethnic or ancestral slurs; harassed for how they look, dress, or speak in ways linked to ethnicity or ancestry (e.g. skin color, religious attire, language spoken); or stereotyped based on perceived shared ancestral or ethnic characteristics. Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh students are examples of individuals who may be discriminated against based on shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics.

Other federal agencies enforce laws that expressly prohibit religious discrimination by schools, colleges, and universities. For example, complaints of religious discrimination in employment can be brought to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in housing (including dormitories) to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and by public schools and colleges to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

As a public service, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) publishes this list of elementary-secondary and post-secondary institutions that are currently under investigation for discrimination involving shared ancestry. OCR updates the list weekly. For the full list of cases under investigation, please see the List of Open Title VI Shared Ancestry Or Ethnic Characteristics Investigations. For copies of some of the complaints that resulted in OCR opening those investigations, as well as some additional records from those investigations, please see the Records related to Title VI Shared Ancestry or Ethnic Characteristics Investigations.

An institution named on this list means that OCR has initiated an investigation of a case concerning that institution. Inclusion on the list does not mean that OCR has made a decision about the case.  For more information about OCR’s case processes, please refer to OCR’s Case Processing Manual.

Policy Guidance
Learn about different types of guidance documents, including how to comment on significant guidance.

Other OCR Resources

  • Fact Sheet: Protecting Students from Discrimination Based on Shared Ancestry or Ethnic Characteristics (Jan. 2023) PDF (297K)
  • Questions and Answers on Executive Order 13899 (Combating Anti-Semitism) and OCR’s Enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Jan. 19, 2021) PDF (933K)
  • Fact Sheet: Know Your Rights: Title VI and Religion (Jan. 2017) PDF (62.81K)
  • Fact Sheet: Combating Discrimination Against Jewish Students (Jan. 2017) PDF (62.92K)
  • Fact Sheet:Combating Discrimination Against Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) and Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian Students (MASSA) (June 6, 2016) PDF (272K)
  • Exemptions from Title IX
  • Resources in Other Languages (including complaint forms)

How to File a Discrimination Complaint Involving Shared Ancestry

  • How to File a Complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Webcast (Length: 00:07:05)
  • OCR Complaint Process

Examples of OCR Case Resolutions Involving Shared Ancestry or Ethnic Characteristics Complaints

• Red Clay Consolidated School District, DE (03-23-1373)
• University of Vermont, VT (01-22-2002)
• Kyrene School District, AZ (08-19-1367)
• Nauset Public Schools, MA (01-19-1320)
• Fremont Unified School District, CA (09-13-5001)
• Polk County School District, FL (04-14-1664)
• Huntington Beach City School District, CA (09-14-1437)
• Minneapolis Public Schools, MN (05-13-1202)
• Vestal Central School District, NY (02-11-1270)
• St. Cloud Area School District, MN (05-10-1146)
• Henrico County Public Schools, VA (11-10-1244)
• Whittier College, CA (09-11-2013)
• Owatonna Public Schools, MN (05-10-1148)


Other Federal Government Resources

Last Modified: 02/16/2024