Thursday, March 4, 2021

Where Should A School Discrimination Complaint Be Filed?

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

When a parent or student experiences discrimination in the school system, they have a choice of where they want to file for an administrative review (e.g. by a government body).  Should they pick the federal government to review the matter or should they file with their local school or college?  

There are generally two choices for non-court∗∗ administrative discrimination complaints depending on the entity involved, one being the school or college itself, and the other being a government entity.

For a private school student, in a school which takes no federal money and is non-religious, parents and students may be able to go to the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ).  The DOJ will then determine if they may accept the matter for investigation.  A parent or student may also pursue internal filings in their private school, if available.  

For other students, the choice is usually between filing a request for investigation with the school or college or the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), in the United States Department of Education (USDOE).

Why is this a choice?

First, the California Department of Education (CDE) does NOT take discrimination complaints directly and only looks at them on appeal from a public school.  

Second, if a student files with their school or college, and the school or college says there was no discrimination, OCR will not usually review the matter other than the process.  This means the feds won't review the substance of the alleged discriminatory conduct if a parent or student already filed with their school or college and the matter was concluded (in their favor or not).

So, students and parents have to decide at the getgo where to file a request for an investigation, and it is an important determination.

My personal preference is OCR, as OCR tends to be more objective, is not afraid to find discrimination occurred (as it is not their school!), has more resources, and truly aims to get a resolution in most cases.  

How motivated do you think a school district is to find discrimination occurred in one of its own schools or by one of its staff?   


This is why OCR may be the better place to start.

There is never any guarantee OCR will find actual  discrimination, but it seems more likely they will more objectively pursue the school discrimination investigation and potentially have fairer results.  

OCR can leverage the government purse against schools to obtain correction of wrongs and justice for students.

OCR does not take all complaints for investigation, so it is important for a parent or student to write the initial filing properly, file it timely, and attach any evidence which supports the claims.∗∗



Michelle Ball

Education Law Attorney 



717 K Street, Suite 228 

Sacramento, CA 95814 

Phone: 916-444-9064 

Fax: 916-444-1209

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Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting.  This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.

∗∗Administrative filings are separate and distinct from claims students may file in court and I am in no way reviewing those matters here.