A r c h i v e d   I n f o r m a t i o n

Applying Federal Civil Rights Laws
to Public Charter Schools


One of the fastest growing areas of public school reform is the charter schools movement. Charter schools are public schools under contract – or charter – between a public agency and groups of parents, teachers, community leaders, or others who want to create alternatives and choice within the public school system. Charter schools create choice for parents and students within the public school system, while providing a system of accountability for student achievement. Charter schools also encourage innovation and provide opportunities for parents to play powerful roles in shaping and supporting the education of their children. As a result, charter schools can spur healthy competition to improve public education.

In exchange for increased accountability, charter schools are given expanded flexibility with respect to select statutory and regulatory requirements. Federal legislation provides support for the creation of charter schools as a means of promoting choice and innovation within public school systems. Of course, charter schools, like all public schools and other recipients of federal financial assistance, must operate consistent with civil rights laws.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED), Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces a number of civil rights laws that apply to public schools, including charter schools. These laws include: Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin; Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability; and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of age. These laws apply to programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. OCR is also responsible for enforcing Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities, including public schools. Title II applies to public entities, regardless of whether they receive federal financial assistance. OCR receives and resolves more than 5,000 complaints of discrimination each year and provides technical assistance on a wide range of issues.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division (CRD) works on a variety of legal issues involving elementary and secondary schools. DOJ enforces in the courts many of the same statutes that OCR enforces administratively, including Title VI, Title IX, Section 504, and Title II. DOJ also enforces Title IV and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974. DOJ may intervene in private suits that allege violations of education-related anti-discrimination statutes and the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. CRD is also responsible for monitoring more than 400 school districts currently covered by desegregation court orders in over 200 desegregation cases where the United States is a party.

ED and DOJ support the implementation of charter schools as a valuable way to enhance choice among public schools and to give more students the opportunity to learn to challenging standards. This guidance seeks to aid charter school developers and operators in their efforts to plan, develop, and deliver their important educational programs in a nondiscriminatory manner.

To avoid distraction within this guidance, we have often used acronyms and abbreviations to substitute for the names of agencies and multiword concepts. The meaning of each is explained within the context. For your convenience, we also include the following key to the acronyms and abbreviation you will find in this publication.



[Responsibilites for Civil Rights Compliance]