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The Educational Opportunities Project (“EOP”) strives to guarantee that all students receive equal educational opportunities in public schools and institutions of higher learning. Working with private law firms and community leaders, the EOP has been successful in promoting diverse and integrated learning environments; enforcing the rights of students with disabilities and English Language Learners; challenging discriminatory school discipline policies, student assignment practices; as well as school funding inequities. Currently, the EOP is leading efforts to defend race conscious college admissions policies, and represents a diverse set of underrepresented minority students at Harvard College and the University of North Carolina. The EOP also recently secured a victory in one of the most important higher education desegregation cases to be brought in decades — a case that will restore equity for Maryland’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

 

 

Litigation

 

Affirmative Action:

Affirmative action policies, designed to ensure our nation’s colleges and universities do not overlook talented underrepresented students of color, are under attack. An extremist organization, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) has filed three lawsuits against higher education institutions, seeking to repeal their race-conscious admissions policies. Together with its partners and student/alumni clients, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is defending these policies, emphasizing the importance of racial diversity in higher education, and demonstrating how race is an integral part of a students’ identity and experiences.

 

Case: Students for Fair Admissions Inc. vs. Harvard College

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is representing a multiracial and multiethnic group of Harvard students and alumni, and prospective students, who are defending the university’s right to consider race as one of many factors in the admissions process. The anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions claims the policy unlawfully discriminates against Asian American applicants.

View a case summary, timeline, and supporting documents. 

 

Case: Students for Fair Admissions Inc. vs. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is representing a diverse group of prospective and current students, as well as alumni, to showcase how the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s race-conscious admissions policy has helped to increase diversity and give all qualified students opportunities. The anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions insists UNC’s admissions policy unfairly uses race to give significant preference to underrepresented minority applicants, to the detriment of white and Asian American applicants.

View a case summary, timeline, and supporting documents. 

 

Case: Students for Fair Admissions Inc. vs. University of Texas at Austin

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is representing a group of African American, Asian American, and Latinx students, student organizations, and the Texas NAACP to demonstrate how the University of Texas at Austin’s race-conscious admissions policy promotes cross-racial understanding, helps to break down racial stereotypes, and empowers the next generation of leaders in an increasingly diverse society. The anti-affirmative action group Student for Fair Admissions has filed a lawsuit against UT and the policy on behalf of two white students.

View a case summary, timeline, and supporting documents. 

 

Title IX:

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and pro bono counsel have filed amicus briefs on behalf of itself and several other organizations supporting the plaintiffs in three lawsuits challenging new Title IX rules that weaken protections against sexual harassment enforcement in schools. Title IX is a landmark federal civil rights law and is crucial to fostering a safe and supportive school experience by ensuring students can benefit from educational opportunities free from discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment. Yet former education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued a new rule in 2020 that ushered in a restrictive era of Title IX regulatory enforcement. As argued in the amicus briefs, these changes heavily favor alleged perpetrators of sexual harassment and have a particularly chilling effect on students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ students. 

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et.al. v. Elisabeth DeVos, et al.   

State of New York, et.al. v. U.S. Department of Education and Elisabeth DeVos 

Victim Rights Law Center, et. al. v. Elisabeth DeVos, et.al. 

Other Litigation:

Case: The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education. Inc., et. al. v. Maryland Higher Education Commission, et. al. 

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and pro bono counsel represent a group of current and former students from four historically Black colleges and universities in Maryland, who claim the state deliberately underfunded and undermined the academic programs at their schools. The students argue that Maryland let other state colleges duplicate programs that had previously attracted a diverse student body to the HBCU’s, and therefore, directly impeded enrollment at the HBCU schools.  

View a case summary, timeline, and supporting documents. 

Case: P.B. v. White  

In October of 2010, the Lawyers’ Committee, the Southern Poverty Law Center and pro bono counsel filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of New Orleans students with disabilities against the Louisiana Department of Education pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The plaintiff students claimed that, following the decentralization of public-school governance in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, students with disabilities were denied admission to public schools, prevented from accessing special education services, and removed from school as a consequence for behaviors related to their disabilities. In March of 2015, the parties entered into a Consent Judgment, which was approved by the federal district court. Monitoring continues to this day. 

Read the lawsuit.  

Read the Consent Judgement. 

Case: Smith et al. v. Regents of the University of California 

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and ACLU regional offices in California filed an amicus brief in an appeal of a preliminary injunction enjoining the consideration of SAT/ACT scores by the University of California (UC) Regents’ system. The brief highlights the racial disparities and built-in racial biases associated with the tests, as well as the UC system’s admission that those tests are discriminatory and unreliable indicators of college success. This brief supports a complaint filed by  a coalition of students and education advocacy groups alleging that the UC system’s use of standardized test scores in admissions violates state anti-discrimination laws by unlawfully disadvantaging students of color, students with disabilities, and students with less income and wealth. 

Read the amicus brief. 

Case: T.R. et al., v. School District of Philadelphia   

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed an amicus brief with other organizations in support of a class action filed by parents of English learner students who receive disability services against the School District of Philadelphia. The parents allege that thousands of parents and their children are illegally denied the opportunity to participate fully in the special education process because they don’t understand or speak English and the district has failed to provide translation and interpretation services. The amicus brief demonstrates the historical importance of class actions in vindicating critical civil rights and urges the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the lower court’s denial of class certification. 

Read the amicus brief. 

Case: New York Legal Assistance Group v. Elisabeth DeVos 

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and co-counsel submitted an amicus brief in support of plaintiff seeking to invalidate the U.S. Department of Education’s 2019 Borrower Defense Rule, which reverses vital protections to address the well-documented emergence of illegal practices by predatory, for-profit schools. The amicus brief highlighted how the rule’s implementation will inflict disproportionate harms on low-income Black students and other students of color. 

Read the amicus brief. 

Case: In re Renewal Application of Team Academy Charter School, et al.  

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed an amicus brief urging the New Jersey Supreme Court to require the Commissioner of Education to meaningfully determine whether charter school expansions will have a segregative effect or disrupt the public school  districts’ ability to provide a thorough and efficient education to all of its students. This challenge by the Education Law Center (NJ) comes after the New Jersey Commissioner of Education approved seven charter school expansion applications even though evidence in the administrative record suggests these expansions will increase segregation based on race, language and disability.   

Read the amicus brief. 

Policy & Advocacy

 

Endorsement: Strength in Diversity Act: 

To ensure all students receive a high-quality education that promotes diversity and inclusion, and are prepared to break down stereotypes and produce cross-cultural understanding, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has endorsed the Strength in Diversity Act. The legislation calls for developing and implementing new strategies in our nation’s public schools to promote inclusion, which would strengthen the fabric of our nation.  

Read our endorsement. 

 

Removing Law Enforcement from Schools: 

On Feb. 25, 2021, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, along with several other organizations, sent a letter to President Biden, asking him to eliminate the use of federal funding for police in schools and move the funding to support mental health professionals. We urged President Biden to do as much as he can by Executive Order, as federal funding for police in schools makes it more likely that Black, Brown, Indigenous and LGBTQ+ students are disproportionately suspended and referred to law enforcement, and eventually sent into our broken criminal justice system.  

Read the blog post. 

 

Proficiency Testing for English Learning Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic:

On Jan. 11, 2021, the national Lawyers’ Committee and 17 other education organizations sent a letter to the Biden education transition team, urging them to postpone proficiency testing for English learning students. The letter asks the education transition team to allow state and local education agencies to postpone testing until the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, issue clear guidance for protecting students and giving parents the right to opt out of the testing, and make sure those who opt-out are not penalized.

Read the letter.

 

Endorsement: The Examining Educational Redlining in Lending Act:

To help protect student loan borrowers of color from discriminatory lending practices, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has endorsed the Examining Educational Redlining in Lending Act. The bill requires the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to investigate how lenders use educational data when assessing creditworthiness for student loans, make its findings publicly available, and submit a report to Congress about the findings and recommendations for addressing potential racial disparities.

Read the press release.

 

Ensuring Equal Access to Remote Learning Technology for Homeless Families in Missouri

On May 5 and May 11, 2020, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Legal Services of Eastern Missouri sent letters to the Normandy Schools Collaborative in Missouri urging the school district to cease charging families a deposit for laptops during the pandemic, citing Missouri law and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. In response, the school district clarified that such fees would no longer be charged.

Read the letter.

Read our response to the district.

 

End Standardized Testing for College Admissions and Commit to an Equity-Based System

On June 16, 2020, the national Lawyers’ Committee and several other education and civil rights organizations called on 30 major universities to immediately end their consideration of SAT/ACT scores for student admissions and to commit to an equity-based admissions approach in 2020 and beyond. The letter cites the SAT/ACT’s built-in biases, including research showing that test scores do not meaningfully predict a student’s success in college and are more closely correlated with race, wealth and parental education. Due to collective efforts of students and other advocates, 28 of the 30 universities made the test optional for admissions for the 2021-22 admissions cycle.

Read the letter.

 

 

 

Programs & Initiatives
The Reason Project:
    • Increasing access, retention, and completion rates for low-income and underrepresented students of color at public colleges and universities in Illinois and Ohio. Find out more.
First Generation Civil Rights Fellowship Program:
    • Providing first generation undergraduate students who intend to pursue careers in social justice a summer program to work in the field at racial and social justice organizations. Find out more.
Civil Rights Community Training and Technical Assistance:
    • Generating and providing a variety of resources and services to organizations, educators, and families who seek to empower and support underserved communities in pursuit of meaningful access to quality education, including Know Your Rights presentations on racial justice and civil rights issues. Find out more.
COVID-19

COVID-19 has wreaked unprecedented havoc on families, schools and school districts across the nation.  Above all, it has magnified racial and ethnic inequities not just in schools, but also across communities and states. While some schools are re-opening this fall with hybrid and/or remote learning, the states still have duties to deliver a quality education to every child in a safe, equitable, and meaningful manner. The challenges for underserved communities of color are only expected to grow as the end of the crisis remains elusive and states grapple with decreasing budgets.

July 31, 2020 – Comment Letter in Opposition to Interim Final Rule on Equitable Services in the CARES Act 

The Lawyers’ Committee opposes the rule because it would deprive the most marginalized children who attend traditional public schools—including low-income Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners of the critical resources they need during the precarious COVID-19 outbreak, and exacerbate the worst effects of the pandemic for their families.

July 17, 2020 – Letter to the Missouri State Board of Education Regarding Racial Disparities and the Digital Divide During Covid

The Lawyers’ Committee and Legal Services of Eastern Missouri alerted state officials to observed racial disparities in access to digital learning tools during the pandemic and virtual learning. The Department issued guidance to all districts reminding them state law required a free public education in which course fees may not be charged and for which students cannot be required to furnish materials.

July 17, 2020 –  Comment Letter in Response to Interim Final Rule on College Student Eligibility for Emergency CARES Act Funding

In its letter, the Lawyers’ Committee urged the Department of Education to comply with the CARES Act and withdraw its Interim Final Rule and all guidance restricting eligibility for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (“HEERF”). The rule would have devastating impact on targeted immigrant students, particularly immigrants of color who often do not have access to health care and other critical supports.

July 13, 2020 – Amicus Brief in Support of Lawsuit to Declare Unlawful the Department of Education’s Interim Final Rule on HEERF Student Eligibility

The Lawyers’ Committee, along with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, and the National Immigration Law Center filed an amicus brief in support of the state of Washington’s lawsuit to declare unlawful the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to deny emergency aid to vulnerable college students in violation of the intent of Congress.

May 7, 2020 –  COVID-19 and Educational Civil Rights: A Rising Tide of Litigation Issues

The Lawyers’ Committee hosted prominent, national civil rights litigators to discuss various considerations state and district leaders and local stakeholders should be accounting for in making short-term and long-term educational decisions and how federal and state civil rights laws may be a springboard for communities to act upon in the courts should policymakers and education leaders fail underserved students of color and their schools.

May 5, 2020 – Letter to Normandy School District (MO) Calling For Educational Equity in Remote Learning Policies

In early May, the Lawyers’ Committee and Legal Services of Eastern Missouri wrote a letter demanding that Normandy School District immediately desist from charging families for Chromebooks, citing Missouri’s constitution, federal laws, and the district’s own policies that guarantee Missouri children the right to a free education. After further dialogue, Normandy changed its policy and no longer charges any students fees for laptops that are necessary for remote learning.

March 20, 2020 –  Letter to Congress on Equity Principles to Help Student Loan Borrowers

The Lawyers’ Committee co-signed this letter with partners from Higher Ed, Not Debt — a coalition of labor, veteran, senior, student, civil rights, and consumer groups dedicated to tackling student loan debt in America — which implores policymakers to focus on equity and provide relief to student loan borrowers, especially the most vulnerable borrowers, to protect them from falling into delinquency, default, or further economic distress.

COVID-19

COVID-19 has wreaked unprecedented havoc on families, schools and school districts across the nation.  Above all, it has magnified racial and ethnic inequities not just in schools, but also across communities and states. While some schools are re-opening this fall with hybrid and/or remote learning, the states still have duties to deliver a quality education to every child in a safe, equitable, and meaningful manner. The challenges for underserved communities of color are only expected to grow as the end of the crisis remains elusive and states grapple with decreasing budgets.

July 31, 2020 – Comment Letter in Opposition to Interim Final Rule on Equitable Services in the CARES Act 

The Lawyers’ Committee opposes the rule because it would deprive the most marginalized children who attend traditional public schools—including low-income Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners of the critical resources they need during the precarious COVID-19 outbreak, and exacerbate the worst effects of the pandemic for their families.

July 17, 2020 – Letter to the Missouri State Board of Education Regarding Racial Disparities and the Digital Divide During Covid

The Lawyers’ Committee and Legal Services of Eastern Missouri alerted state officials to observed racial disparities in access to digital learning tools during the pandemic and virtual learning. The Department issued guidance to all districts reminding them state law required a free public education in which course fees may not be charged and for which students cannot be required to furnish materials.

July 17, 2020 –  Comment Letter in Response to Interim Final Rule on College Student Eligibility for Emergency CARES Act Funding

In its letter, the Lawyers’ Committee urged the Department of Education to comply with the CARES Act and withdraw its Interim Final Rule and all guidance restricting eligibility for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (“HEERF”). The rule would have devastating impact on targeted immigrant students, particularly immigrants of color who often do not have access to health care and other critical supports.

July 13, 2020 – Amicus Brief in Support of Lawsuit to Declare Unlawful the Department of Education’s Interim Final Rule on HEERF Student Eligibility

The Lawyers’ Committee, along with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, and the National Immigration Law Center filed an amicus brief in support of the state of Washington’s lawsuit to declare unlawful the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to deny emergency aid to vulnerable college students in violation of the intent of Congress.

May 7, 2020 –  COVID-19 and Educational Civil Rights: A Rising Tide of Litigation Issues

The Lawyers’ Committee hosted prominent, national civil rights litigators to discuss various considerations state and district leaders and local stakeholders should be accounting for in making short-term and long-term educational decisions and how federal and state civil rights laws may be a springboard for communities to act upon in the courts should policymakers and education leaders fail underserved students of color and their schools.

May 5, 2020 – Letter to Normandy School District (MO) Calling For Educational Equity in Remote Learning Policies

In early May, the Lawyers’ Committee and Legal Services of Eastern Missouri wrote a letter demanding that Normandy School District immediately desist from charging families for Chromebooks, citing Missouri’s constitution, federal laws, and the district’s own policies that guarantee Missouri children the right to a free education. After further dialogue, Normandy changed its policy and no longer charges any students fees for laptops that are necessary for remote learning.

March 20, 2020 –  Letter to Congress on Equity Principles to Help Student Loan Borrowers

The Lawyers’ Committee co-signed this letter with partners from Higher Ed, Not Debt — a coalition of labor, veteran, senior, student, civil rights, and consumer groups dedicated to tackling student loan debt in America — which implores policymakers to focus on equity and provide relief to student loan borrowers, especially the most vulnerable borrowers, to protect them from falling into delinquency, default, or further economic distress.