Educators have both the opportunity and obligation to protect their students' right to an education free of discrimination. That begins with an understanding of the law and what to do if the system is failing them.
The story "Saving Title VI" introduces readers to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and to Save Your VI—an organization working tirelessly to make sure the law is enforced despite challenges at the federal level.
Save Your VI provides a lot of helpful resources on its website. These include background information on Title VI, current research and guidance surrounding racial inequities in schools, and tools tailored toward students, caregivers and educators so they understand their rights, their options and their power.
This toolkit utilizes some of those educator-facing resources so you—or your professional learning community—can frame a reflection on your students, your school and your role in upholding Title VI.
- What do I need to know about Title VI and its enforcement?
- What is the reality for students of color at my school? Do our policies, procedures and practices uphold or violate Title VI?
- What can I do to improve my school climate for students of color?
- What can I do to protect students of color from harassment and ensure the enforcement of Title VI?
1. What is Title VI?
Before reflecting on your and your school's enforcement of Title VI, it's important to make sure you and everyone in your professional learning community understand the law and how a school could violate it.
Start with the text from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 itself, and consider the questions that follow. Title VI states:
"No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
By yourself or in a group discussion, consider:
In what ways could a student be excluded from participation at school due to their race or ethnicity?
Remember: This goes beyond a student being explicitly told that they can't do something—like take an advanced course, or play a sport—because of their race. Consider how the harassment of Evan Mack mentioned in the story kept him from fully participating in football, or how the isolation of the investigation kept him from fully participating as a student. Exclusion can take many forms.
In what ways could a student be denied the benefits of school due to their race or ethnicity?
Remember: As above, this goes beyond explicit segregation. Discipline policies that lead to the disproportionate suspensions of black students, for example, could be seen as a systemic mechanism for denying those students equal access to education. Denying English-language learners access to advanced or college-prep courses, or legally mandated translation services for their families, could be seen as isolating students from certain benefits based on their ethnicity.
In what ways could a student be subjected to discrimination at school?
Consider: Discipline rates and access to advanced courses are only two of many examples in which racial and ethnic biases lead to inequitable school practices. How else does discrimination manifest?
2. What is the reality for students of color at my school?
Now that you have considered how a school may violate Title VI, it's time to dig deeper into your own school's climate and practices. You can begin with data to get an idea of your school's landscape.
What do you notice? See if your school enrollment population differs from the demographics of your advanced courses, or how your school's population differs from the demographics of students suspended and expelled. If you see a discrepancy, consider why. How might this be a sign of Title VI violations?
With that information in mind, you (and your professional learning community) can reflect on your practices and the practices of your school. Consider questions like:
- Have I witnessed harassment based on someone's race or ethnicity?
- How do I respond? Do I interrupt? Do I follow up?
- Are these incidents reported? Investigated? Is restorative justice employed?
- In those scenarios, who is usually given the benefit of the doubt? Is enough done to ensure the victim's education is unencumbered?
- What formal procedures are in place to document the incident? What policies are in place to provide guidance?
These questions may lead you to notice how your practices or your school's policies and procedures lead to exclusion, denial or discrimination against some of your students. This process will better equip you to consider, in the next section, what actions you can take to adopt more equitable education practices and to uphold your Title VI obligations.
To truly get a grasp of what your students are facing, it helps to hear from them. Save Your VI's "Educators Campus Climate Check-Up" can help you assess your school climate and whether your students know their rights and where to turn in the event of racial or ethnic harassment.
3. What are my responsibilities under Title VI? And what are my opportunities?
By now, you're probably thinking, "I'm not a mirror; I can't reflect anymore!" But now that you have completed this reflection, you can consider what actions you can take to protect your students from discrimination.
This Save Your VI handout/poster provides simple steps that you can take if a student is harassed at school because of their race, color, ethnicity or religion. Consider how these steps compare to your usual response.
The Save Your VI educator toolkit also contains links to guidance for improving school climate and discipline practices, and for crafting a non-discrimination policy that meets Title VI requirements. Educators, especially administrators, have a responsibility to advocate for these changes.
Consider how you might advocate for these changes at your school. Craft a plan of action with colleagues. In writing or discussion about your plan, keep this inside-out structure in mind:
- What can we do in our classrooms to improve climate, promote respect, interrupt harassment and protect students from harsh discipline policies?
- What can we do as a community of teachers to address those concerns?
- What can we do as a school, district or system to address those concerns?
You and your colleagues can also consider your opportunities, not just your legal responsibilities. Educators who know harassment is occurring should be aware of students' and families' options so they can pass them along—especially if those students are facing a combative or apathetic administration. Save Your VI's student toolkit includes a poster any educator can display so students know their rights under Title VI and what to do if they are harassed. And the family toolkit includes useful information that can be included in send-home packets, including how to file a Title VI complaint.
Ideally, make these materials available to families via beginning-of-year materials packets, parent-teacher conferences and other orientation events.