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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.

UPDATE: U.S. Court of Appeals Hears Arguments in SFFA v. Harvard

“We will not undo 40 years of progress on improving racial diversity in higher education, and this argument made clear that everyone, no matter their background, must have an equal opportunity to achieve their full potential. The court must recognize that diversity and inclusivity in the classroom is essential to ending the systemic racism and structural inequality that pervades our nation. “

David Hinojosa

Project Director, Educational Opportunities Project

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.

Litigation

Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. Harvard College

In 2014, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. (“SFFA”), spearheaded by anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum, filed a lawsuit against Harvard claiming that its admissions policy – which considers race alongside a multitude of other factors – unlawfully discriminates against Asian-American applicants. Since 2015, the Lawyers’ Committee has represented a multi-racial, multi-ethnic group of Harvard students who are defending a university’s right to consider race to promote diversity and inclusion. The Lawyers’ Committee represents the Students with co-counsel from Asian Americans Advancing Justice Center (AAJC), Boston’s Lawyers’ For Civil Rights, and Arnold & Porter.

Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

In 2014, Students for Fair Admissions, filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina claiming that UNC’s admissions process unfairly uses race to give significant preference to underrepresented minority applicants to the detriment of white and Asian-American applicants, while ignoring race-neutral alternatives for achieving a diverse student body. In June 2015, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the North Carolina Justice Center and pro bono counsel, Relman, Dane, & Colfax PLLC, filed a petition to intervene on behalf of a diverse group of students of color who attend or attended UNC-Chapel Hill to defend the limited, but meaningful inclusion of race—as one factor among many factors—to increase diversity and afford opportunities to all qualified students at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of Texas at Austin

On May 16, 2019, on the eve of the 65th anniversary of Brown v. Board, Edward Blum resurrected his failed challenge against the University of Texas at Austin’s (UT) modest, race-conscious policy by filing a lawsuit in Travis County state court. The lawsuit targets UT’s holistic, race-conscious admissions program that considers race and ethnicity as “a factor of a factor of a factor” in its comprehensive review to promote greater diversity within, and across, racial groups on campus. In December 2019, the Lawyers’ Committee and pro bono counsel, Hunton Andrews Kurth, LLP, and Bernabei & Kabat, PLLC, filed a petition to intervene on behalf of students to defend the limited, but meaningful inclusion of race—as one factor amongst many factors—to increase diversity and afford opportunities to all qualified students at one of the state’s flagship universities.

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

In 2006, a coalition of graduates from Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore claimed that Maryland underfunded and undermined the academic programs at those schools. By letting other state colleges duplicate programs that once attracted a diverse student body to the historically black colleges and universities, the state impeded enrollment at the schools. In 2009, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and co-counsel Kirkland & Ellis LLP joined the team to represent the Coalition and individual students and faculty from these historically black colleges and universities.

Policy & Advocacy

September 9, 2020 – Open Letter on the Rights of LGBTQ+ Students and Staff

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, GLSEN, National Center for Transgender Equality, the Lawyers’ Committee and more than 235 civil rights and education organizations called for an end to discrimination against LGBTQ+ students, educators, faculty, and staff. Highlighting the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, the groups urged all students, educators, and families to advance inclusive and welcoming environments in all schools that celebrate and affirm LGBTQ+ students and staff.

August 14, 2020 – Endorsement: The Examining Educational Redlining in Lending Act

Reps. Marcia L. Fudge (OH-11) and Joyce Beatty (OH-03) introduced the Examining Educational Redlining in Lending Act to help protect borrowers of color against discriminatory lending practices. The bill, endorsed by the Lawyers’ Committee, requires the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to assess the use of educational data by consumer lenders in their underwriting processes, make the assessment publicly available, and submit a report to Congress on their findings and recommendations for addressing potential disparities.The Examining Educational Redlining in Lending Act is.

August 6, 2020 – Letter Regarding Proposed Changes to the Civil Rights Data Collection

The Lawyers’ Committee, in coalition with the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, submitted comments regarding proposed changes to the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). In the letter the coalition reiterates how vitally important it is to preserve the scope, frequency, and public accessibility of the CRDC so as to support the Department of Education’s work, and the work of others, in complying with federal law and ensuring equal educational opportunity for all children.

June 29, 2020 – Letter to the Montgomery County, Maryland Board of Education re: Law Enforcement in Montgomery County Public Schools

Citing research that shows the presence of law enforcement results in increased harms for students, particularly Black students, the Lawyers’ Committee respectfully urged the Board to remove the regular presence of law enforcement from Montgomery County Public Schools and to reinvest those resources in equitable student and family supports.

June 16, 2020 – Letter Calling on Colleges and Universities to End Consideration of SAT and ACT and Commit to Equity-Based Admissions 

The Lawyers’ Committee and a coalition of education and civil rights advocates 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 SAT and ACT pose significant barriers to equal educational opportunity while providing no compelling value in admissions. The letter cites the SAT/ACTs’ well-established flaws and 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.

April 30, 2020 –  Letter to California Lawmakers in Support of Legislation to Repeal Proposition 209 

A coalition of national organizations led by the Lawyers’ Committee urged the state of California to create equal opportunity in its institutions of higher education and its workforce by repealing California’s Proposition 209. The coalition sent a letter to the California Assembly Committee on Public Employment and Retirement and key state legislators in support of ACA 5, which will create equal opportunities for all Californians and fight discrimination and bias against women and people of color.

March 9, 2020 – Letter to Delaware Secretary of Education Regarding Treatment of Black Students With Disabilities 

In response to concerns raised by partners regarding the potential discriminatory treatment of Black students and Black students with disabilities in Delaware, the Lawyers’ Committee conducted a preliminary review of state and school-level discipline data and sent a letter to the Delaware Department of Education outlining several troubling areas revealed in our initial observations.

Amicus

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

The Lawyers’ Committee, along with members and allies of the Education Civil Rights Alliance, filed an amicus brief in support of plaintiffs-appellants in a federal class action lawsuit against the School District of Philadelphia alleging that thousands of parents and their children are illegally denied the opportunity to participate in the special education process due to the fact that they don’t understand or speak English.

The brief suggests, among other arguments, that the district court’s ruling undermines the purpose of class action as a tool to vindicate individual rights through collection action. In fact, the modern class action rule was a response to the fierce opposition that arose in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed racial school segregation, accelerated the civil rights movement, and was itself a class action under the original rule 23 adopted in 1938. The district court’s decision, however, embraces an approach to numerosity and commonality that, if affirmed, imperils the availability of class actions for these important cases going forward. In this case, in holding that variations in how students were affected by the school district’s failure to provide legally required language services precluded class certification, the district court failed to apply Rule 23(b)(2) as it was intended.

New York Legal Assistance Group v. Elisabeth DeVos

This case is a challenge by New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) to invalidate the U.S. Department of Education’s 2019 Borrower Defense Rule which reverses vital protections put in place by the prior 2016 Borrower Defense Rule to address the well-documented advent of illegal practices by predatory, for-profit schools. In July 2020, the Lawyers’ Committee submitted an amicus brief in support of NYLAG’s Motion for Summary Judgment. The amicus brief highlighted how the Rule’s implementation will inflict disproportionate harms on low-income Black students and other students of color, harms which the Department entirely ignored or failed to adequately address in violation of the APA.

Title IX Cases

The Lawyers’ Committee has filed amicus briefs in three lawsuits challenging new Title IX rules that weaken protections against sexual harassment in school and would have a particularly chilling effect on students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ students who, because of bias, prejudice, discrimination, and racism, already underreport sexual harassment.

Title IX of the Education Amendment Act of 1972 is the landmark federal civil rights law meant to ensure that students can benefit from educational opportunities free from discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment. Unfortunately, such discrimination is rampant—for example, more than one out of every four college women has experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact. Thus, Title IX is crucial to fostering a safe and supportive school experience.

Yet, in May, Secretary DeVos issued a final rule –Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance – that will usher in a new, restrictive era of Title IX regulations that tilts heavily in favor of alleged perpetrators of sexual harassment, discourages reporting, limits jurisdiction over off-campus incidents, and undermines the intent and purpose of Title IX.

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.

State of Washington v. Betsy DeVos

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.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) allocated $12.6 billion to create the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (“HEERF”) to help colleges and universities address disruptions to their campuses and provide emergency assistance to students to cover expenses, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, healthcare, and child care.

On June 17, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education published an interim final rule that grossly misinterpreted the language of the CARES Act, excluding some of our nation’s most vulnerable college students from access to the emergency assistance. The Department’s rule would have devastating impact on targeted immigrant students and their campus communities. Due to longstanding system health and social inequities Black and Latinx populations are at much greater risk of COVID-19 hospitalizations, with rates five times and four times, respectively, greater than non-Hispanic Whites. These dangers are compounded for immigrants of color who often do not have access to health care and other critical supports.

 

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

This case is a challenge by the Education Law Center (NJ) to the New Jersey Commissioner of Education’s approval of seven charter school expansion applications in Newark Public Schools (NPS) in February of 2016.  Evidence in the administrative record suggests that the expansions will increase segregation in NPS based on race, language and disability.  On May 7, 2020, the Lawyers’ Committee, on behalf of itself and twenty-six constitutional and educational law scholars, filed an amicus brief urging the New Jersey Supreme Court to issue a ruling that will require the Commissioner of Education to affirmatively and meaningfully determine whether charter school expansions will have a segregative effect or impede the public school district’s ability to provide a thorough and efficient education to all of its students.

 

Programs & Initiatives

The Parental Readiness and Empowerment Program (PREP)  seeks to improve K-12 student performance, retention, and access to equal educational opportunities. We serve low-income and minority children in targeted communities by increasing parental engagement and ensuring that parents become successful advocates for their children. By combining the energies of parents, schools, civil rights groups, and the private sector, PREP works to create meaningful access to a quality education for all children.  PREP provides parents with information about education rights through public workshops and its innovative online e-clinic. Volunteer lawyers and advocates offer free parents legal advice and online resources give parents and community members guides on how to advocate for improved outcomes.

First Generation Civil Rights Fellowship Program (FirstGEN) is a summer program for undergraduate students who intend to pursue careers in the social justice field and who are the first in their immediate families to attend college. Our mission is to identify and support first generation college students as they emerge into tomorrow’s social justice leaders. Fellows gain hands-on experience working on civil rights matters as full-time interns, while also participating in advocacy training and professional development. Current partners include Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), and the National Immigration Law Center.

 

Let Us Learn: Schools for Every Child seeks to protect the constitutional right of all children, regardless of their immigration status, to attend public school in the United States. Confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Plyler v. Doe, immigrant and refugee children have a right to a K-12 education, and school districts cannot deny this basic right based on a student’s or their parent’s immigration status. Let Us Learn seeks to protect this right through outreach to three important groups – state Attorneys General, school districts, and parents and students.