Facing Racism at School

Student Advocacy Center supports action to challenge oppressive systems that affect your student’s education and well being. We center the voices and experiences of our students and families. If you or your student are faced with discrimination or racism in school, reach out to us for support, information and advocacy.

What Racism Can Look Like at School

Studies prove that inequity based on race is prevalent and systemic in our nation’s schools. Racism is systemic— built into our institutional structures— and individual, between two people. Racism is complex and pervasive— it can be overt or it can be very subtle.

Here are some examples of racism:

  • Different enforcement of school rules. When Sarah breaks a rule, the teacher reminds her gently and suggests she change her behavior. When Joseph, who is Black, breaks the same rule, the teacher reacts harshly and sends him out of the classroom.
  • Discouraging a student from certrain classes or opportunities. A guidance counselor tries to talk Abby, a high school sophomore, out of taking the advanced biology class she wants, suggesting she take an easier course instead. The advanced biology class has no Black students in it.
  • Treating students differently. Kaya notices that her teacher only calls on White students in class.
  • Racial slurs and harrassment. A student directed a racial slur at James.
  • Difficulty accessing additional academic or special education support. NEED EXAMPLE
  • Add Others?

Reflect on Your Needs

Proving that a school acted in a racially discriminatory way may be an uphill battle in the legal world, but there are actions we can take to address what happened.

Ask yourself:

  • What do you want to see happen?
  • What would make this situation right or at least repair the harm?
  • How can an advocate help you and your child?
  • What can be done to make your child feel safe at school?


Taking Action

Deciding how to make the situation right can feel confusing. Our advocates can help you consider the options and provide non-legal advice. We’re here to support you— call our helpline 1-734-482-0489.


Report the incident to the school.

  • Report the incident to a school staff member that you trust.
  • If the offender is a student: Contact a dean or counselor, or trusted teacher.
  • If the discrimination is coming from an adult in the school, contact a building administrator, usually the school principal. You may have to contact the superintendent.
  • ADVICE HOW TO REPORT? In writing? Calmly? Details to include?

Bring the issue to the school district if the school does not resolve the issue.

  • This could mean a conversation with a superintendent, an assistant superintendent, or even the district’s director of human resources.

File a formal complaint with the government.

  • In cases of blatant discrimination based on race, or where a student has reported being discriminated against and as a result was retaliated against, filing a Discrimination Complaint with the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights is an option open to families.
  • This is a lengthy and slow process that can last years. We advise families to contact us first, since we may be able to help with resolutions that are more timely.
  • You have 180 days since the event occurred to file
    After you file, a Claim Examiner will reach out to you to discuss the merits of your complaint and decide whether to begin an investigation.
  • Learn about the process:
    State of Michigan Office of Civil Rights (LINK)
    US. Office of Civil Rights (LINK)

How We Can Help

Example of a resolution, no filing.

Example of a resolution, filing.

Example of when a family decided they wanted to sue and the help they could get would be to be directed to a lawyer and help to understand their options.