In 2022, state and local governments banned 2,571 different books. This is more books than were subject to such bans in the previous three years combined (2,436). Most of these efforts are taken at the local level. Texas’ Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources (READER) Act marked a departure from this practice and sought to ban books statewide. However, the United States Court of Appeals for Fifth Circuit (the “Fifth Circuit”) recently upheld a preliminary injunction against portions of Texas’ law.

On November 15, 2023, the U.S. Department of Education’s (“Department”) Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) released new civil rights data from the 2020-2021 school year, as well as seven data reports and snapshots which provide an overview of that data. OCR also launched a redesigned Civil Rights Data Collection (“CRDC”) website that includes public-use data files, reports, and snapshots, which school districts can use to review their own and other districts’ data, available here.

The Biden Administration has made concentrated efforts to address the rise in reports of antisemitic, Islamophobic, and other hate-based or bias-based incidents in schools and on college campuses since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas conflict. On November 7, 2023, the U.S. Department of Education’s (“Department”) Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) issued a Dear Colleague Letter reminding schools of their legal obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VI”) to provide all students with a school environment free from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin.

On August 4, 2023, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) published in the Federal Register a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), on accessibility requirements for online and app-based services offered by state and local government entities, including public schools, community colleges, and public universities.

In 2023, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) released a Fact Sheet on Ensuring Meaningful Participation in Advanced Coursework and Specialized Programs for Students Who Are English Learners (“Fact Sheet”), which is available here. The Fact Sheet provides data showing OCR found that students who are English Learners (“ELs”) have lower participation rates in specialized or advanced programs offered at elementary and secondary schools. OCR noted that schools must ensure eligibility for such programs, such as evaluation and testing procedures, do not screen out ELs because of their limited English proficiency, unless a program requires English proficiency for participation.

In April 2023, the U.S. Department of Education’s (Department) released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs and Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance: Sex-Related Eligibility Criteria for Male and Female Athletic Teams. The final rule is expected to be released in spring 2024. For highlights from the Department’s NPRM, see our blog post available here.

Husch Blackwell’s Joe Diedrich appeared recently on the Institute for Justice’s Short Circuit podcast to provide analysis in connection with the Seventh Circuit’s ruling in Biggs v. Chicago Board of Ed. The appellate court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in the case below, a dispute between a fired elementary school’s interim principal and the Chicago Public Schools system.

On April 6, 2023, the U.S. Department of Education released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), which was published in the Federal Register on April 13, 2023, on athletic eligibility under Title IX. The express aim of the proposed rule is to advance Title IX’s goal of ensuring equal opportunity in athletics. While working with stakeholders to develop the proposed rule, the department learned that there is uncertainty about when and how students who identify as transgender can participate in school-sponsored sports, and the proposed rule seeks to provide clarity for students, parents, and schools. The department provided a fact sheet highlighting key aspects of the proposed rule, which are summarized below.

On May 1, 2023, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) released its annual report for Fiscal Year 2022. The FY 2022 report focused on civil rights complaints, proactive compliance reviews, technical assistance presentations, and revised policies and regulations. The highlight of the report was the unprecedented surge of civil rights complaints filed with OCR. OCR confronted the highest volume of complaints in its history, receiving 18,804 complaints. OCR resolved a total of 16,515 complaints, the second-highest number in its history. In addition, OCR conducted 100 proactive compliance reviews, published seven sets of resources and guidance, and provided 186 technical assistance presentations to support civil rights satisfaction in school communities. Click here to view the full report.

School districts often have gender-based dress codes, outlining specific requirements for students such as mandating a particular skirt length for female students or prohibiting muscle shirts for male students. In late 2022, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on school dress codes that made multiple findings regarding the disproportionate impact of dress codes on girls and minorities.