If you have concerns that your child has experienced discrimination based on disability and/or belonging to any other protected class, you have options for filing a complaint with your school district, with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR), or with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
This option is available for IEP (Individualized Education Program), IIIP (Individual Interagency Intervention Plan), and IFSP (Individual Family Service Plan) meetings.
Parents Need to Know
- Issues: Claim of discrimination based on belonging to a protected class. Examples of protected classes include race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, age, sexual orientation, familial status, or disability.
- Who is usually involved: Depends on what agency receives the discrimination complaint: Parent(s), organization, or any citizen, and the school district, Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR), or U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
- Decision maker(s): Depends on what agency receives the discrimination complaint: School district staff person charged with investigating discrimination complaints, MDHR Investigator, or OCR
- Timeline: Varies according to what agency receives the discrimination complaint. Consult school district policy for time limit to file a complaint. Time limit for complaints filed with MDHR is one year from the date of the reported incident. OCR requires complaints filed within 180 calendar days of the date of the alleged discrimination. Timelines related to the complaint investigation process also vary by agency.
- Cost (parent pays): None
Points of Interest
- All students who meet the definition of having a disability are protected from discrimination, even if they are not receiving services on a 504 Plan or an IEP, under state and federal laws. These laws include the Minnesota Human Rights Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (504), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
- The definition of having a disability under state and federal laws is very similar, and includes three basic criteria:
- Having a physical or mental impairment that materially or substantially limits a major life activity
- Having a history or a record of an impairment
- (or) Being regarded or perceived by others as having an impairment
File a Complaint With the School District
Your child’s school is required to publish the policies developed by the district to protect students from discrimination. If you cannot find your school district’s nondiscrimination policy and discrimination complaint procedures on the website, contact the Superintendent’s office directly to request the policy and procedures in writing, including which district staff person should receive your complaint. The title of the district staff person assigned to investigate discrimination complaints varies by district. For example, it may be the Human Rights Coordinator or the Civil Rights Compliance Officer for the district. For discrimination complaints specific to disability, you may be referred to the district ADA/504 Coordinator.
File a Complaint With the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR)
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) is the civil rights enforcement agency for the state, charged with enforcing the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Like 504 and the ADA, the Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination against students based on disability, but it applies to both public and private educational institutions in Minnesota. Filing a complaint with MDHR is not the same as filing a lawsuit. You do not need to have legal representation to file a complaint.
MDHR has its own Mediation process to resolve issues of discrimination, and your MDHR investigator will review your case and decide if it is a good case for Mediation. If you and the school district agree to participate in Mediation, a trained Mediator will meet with both parties in a free, collaborative, and confidential process to discuss possible ways to resolve your case.
It is important to remember that discrimination complaints filed with MDHR are not limited to discrimination based on disability. You can file a complaint if your child has experienced discrimination based on disability and/or belonging to any other protected class. If you have questions about any part of this process, contact MDHR directly.
File a Complaint With the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
The U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is the federal agency charged with enforcing several federal civil rights laws, including:
- Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin by any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance
- Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (504), which prohibits discrimination based on disability by any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance
- Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which prohibits discrimination based on disability in services, programs, and activities provided by state and local government entities
The mission of OCR is to ensure equal access to education through vigorous enforcement of the civil rights of students in Minnesota and across the country. OCR’s complaint investigation process starts with an evaluation of your written complaint to determine if OCR can proceed with an investigation. After OCR opens a complaint investigation, OCR notifies you and the school district in writing and then uses a variety of fact-finding techniques. These include reviewing documents submitted by you and the district as evidence, conducting interviews with you, district staff, and other witnesses, and/or site visits. OCR concludes its investigation with a Letter of Findings to both parties, which contains fact-specific findings and an explanation of the OCR determination in the case, as to whether or not the evidence supports a conclusion that the school district failed to comply with civil rights law(s).
If OCR determines that the school district failed to comply with civil rights law(s), OCR will contact the school district and try to negotiate a voluntary resolution agreement to resolve your complaint and address the area(s) of noncompliance identified by OCR. If you have questions about this process, contact the OCR enforcement office that serves the state of Minnesota directly. OCR encourages students and parents to use e-mail or fax to communicate with OCR when possible.
- Information about Discrimination Complaints — Minnesota Department of Education
- Civil Rights Investigation Process — Minnesota Department of Human Rights
- Minnesota Disability Law Center (MDLC)
The Minnesota Disability Law Center (MDLC) addresses the unique legal needs of persons with disabilities. A statewide project, MDLC provides free civil legal assistance to individuals with disabilities on legal issues that are related to their disability.
- How to File a Discrimination Complaint with the Office for Civil Rights — U. S. Department of Education
- 34 CFR Part 104: Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Handicap in Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance (Implementing Regulations for Section 504)