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Education Discrimination

You have the right to get an education free from illegal discrimination. Education discrimination can happen in public and private schools; colleges and universities; and in trade, technical, professional or business schools.

The forms at the link below should be used to file complaints of illegal discrimination against students or prospective students in education (employees should complete the employment discrimination questionnaire below).  There is also a release form to complete if your complaint is related to a disability.  If you have questions or are unsure of which form(s) to fill out, please do not hesitate to call a PHRC Regional Office.

Who commits illegal discrimination? 

The actions of a student, teacher, administrator or other school employee may be discriminatory, or a school’s policies or the way they are applied may be discriminatory.  The victim may not be one individual, but a whole group who is negatively affected by a policy or procedure.  To file a complaint, you must be a victim, or have the authority to act on behalf of a victim.  (A parent or advocacy organization may file a complaint on behalf of a minor student.)

Who is protected? 

In education, it is illegal to discriminate against someone based on race, color, sex, religious creed, national origin, ancestry, handicap or disability, and the use, handling or training of support or guide animals for disability. 

It is also important to know that it is illegal to discriminate against someone because they have opposed illegal discrimination, filed a complaint, or assisted in an investigation.  This is called retaliation, and the law protects those who oppose illegal behavior.


A few examples of illegal discrimination in education are:

  • A teacher disciplines or grades students differently based on their race, sex, religion, ancestry, national origin or disability
  • Students are denied opportunities such as scholarships or extracurricular activities because of their race, sex, religion, ancestry, national origin or disability
  • A student cannot physically access a facility because of barriers or a lack of ramps or elevators
  • A school refuses to make a reasonable accommodation for a student’s disability, for example an American Sign-Language interpreter, a screen-reader or other assistive device, or an accommodation such as an extended testing period or oral examination
  • A school denies a student the use of a guide or support animal for a disability
  • Classmates harass or bully a peer because of his or her race, sex, religion, disability, ancestry or national origin
  • A teacher requests sexual favors in return for grades or repeatedly makes sexual comments to a student
  • A classmate repeatedly makes sexual comments or gestures, or subjects a peer to sexually offensive images
  • Qualified students are denied admission based on race, sex, religion, ancestry, disability, etc.

*Remember that to be illegal, such treatment must be based on characteristics listed above these examples. There are also many things that happen in schools that are unfair, but may not be illegal.  If it isn’t clear whether your situation was illegal discrimination, an investigation will determine the facts as the law applies. If you have questions about your situation, please don’t hesitate to call a PA Human Relations Commission regional office

If your situation potentially involves a violation of federal civil rights law or of criminal law, the PA Human Relations Commission will refer you to the appropriate agency.