More About Civil Rights Protections in Schools


Public schools and schools receiving federal funds are required to stop and prevent peer harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex or disability when it is serious enough to create a hostile environment that interferes with a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the school’s educational services, activities or opportunities. Harassing conduct may take many forms, including:

“…verbal acts and name-calling; graphic and written statements, which may include use of cell phones or the Internet; or other conduct that may be physically threatening, harmful, or humiliating. Harassment does not have to include intent to harm, be directed at a specific target, or involve repeated incidents.”

Peer harassment includes misconduct that employees know about that is encouraged, tolerated, not sufficiently addressed or ignored by the school or harassment that the school reasonably should have known about. The laws include protection against harassment of members of religious groups based on shared ethnic characteristics as well as gender-based and sexual harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Sexual harassment is defined as:

“…unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Thus, sexual harassment prohibited by Title IX can include conduct such as touching of a sexual nature; making sexual comments, jokes, or gestures; writing graffiti or displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures, or written materials; calling students sexually charged names; spreading sexual rumors; rating students on sexual activity or performance; or circulating, showing, or creating e-mails or Web sites of a sexual nature.”

Civil rights laws require schools to clearly publicize both policies prohibiting harassment and procedures for reporting and resolving complaints. Schools have the responsibility to take immediate, appropriate, thorough and impartial steps to investigate what occurred and if discriminatory harassment is identified, schools must take immediate steps to end the harassment, eliminate any hostile environment and prevent new incidents from occurring.

- The above summary is taken from the US Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights and US Department of Health and Human Services. It is not intended as legal advice. Please refer to these government sources for official clarification.