U.S. Department of Education Issued DCL to Address Discrimination and Harassment Based on Actual or Perceived Race, Religion, or National Origin
On December 31, 2015, the U.S. Department of Education (the “Department”) issued a Dear Colleague Letter (the “December 2015 DCL”) petitioning schools and institutions of higher learning to help ensure students are afforded learning environments that are free from discrimination and harassment based students’ “actual or perceived” race, religion, or national origin.
The December 2015 DCL pointed to current international conflicts resulting in extraordinary levels of displaced persons, including millions of families fleeing violence in Syria. The Department reminded educational leaders to ensure that students are not subjected to discrimination and harassment, especially in light of the current public debate which “sometimes results in dissemination of misinformation.” The Department urged educational leaders to be aware of the potential challenges facing students who are especially at risk of harassment, such as students who are, or are perceived to be, Syrian, Muslim, Middle Eastern, or Arab, as well as those who are Sikh, Jewish, or students of color.
The December 2015 DCL provided examples of how schools, working with stakeholders, can create safe learning environments that allow for all students to be able to equally participate “in a robust exchange of ideas” and that value students’ varied linguistic, cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. Schools should consider, based on the DCL:
- communicating a clear message to students that harassment and bullying will not be tolerated;
- encouraging students, staff, and parents to report all incidents of harassment and bullying so that the school can address them before the situation escalates; and
- having a system in place to intervene if a student’s conduct could endanger others.
The December 31, DCL included an addendum with links to government resources to assist schools in promoting more positive school climates, including various resources provided in languages other than English.