House passes bill to allow private lawsuits against public schools for discriminatory practices

House passes bill to allow private lawsuits against public schools for discriminatory practices
© Bonnie Cash

The House on Wednesday passed legislation aimed at restore individuals’ ability to take civil court actions against public schools and federally funded entities for discriminatory policies and practices.

In a 232-188 vote, the lower chamber passed the Equity and Inclusion Enforcement Act, introduced by House Committee on Education and Labor Chairman Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottPelosi urges early voting to counter GOP's high court gambit: 'There has to be a price to pay' Congress must finish work on popular conservation bill before time runs out House passes bill to allow private lawsuits against public schools for discriminatory practices MORE (D-Va.).

The bill would amend Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to allow for “individual civil actions in cases involving disparate impact.”

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A 2001 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Alexander v. Sandoval said that private citizens cannot sue under Title VI over claims of disparate impact discrimination unless intent can be proved. Therefore, individuals could not pursue civil action. 

Under the House-passed legislation, school districts would be required to appoint a monitor to ensure schools are in compliance with Title VI and would create an assistant secretary of education position at the Department of Education to promote compliance. 

The bill was altered at the 11th hour on the floor after Republicans scored a procedural victory with a motion to amend the bill to require that coordinators created by the legislation consider "antisemitism as illegal discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin." 

The amendment would ensure that "federal funding act against antisemitism in our communities.”

Proponents of the measure argue it is a necessary step in preventing racial inequalities in the public education system and a way to fight structural inequality. 

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“This legislation will restore the right of students and parents to address racial inequities in public schools. This legislation comes over 66 years after the supreme court ruled in 1954 in the Brown v. Board of Education case that in the field of education, the doctrine of separate but equal has no place,” Scott said on the floor ahead of the vote. 

“Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. And this comes just four years after the Government Accountability Office found that racial segregation in public schools is now as bad as it was in the 1960s and getting worse.” 

GOP critics of the bill said while they agree more needs to be done to prevent segregation in schools, they feel it takes the wrong approach. 

“My Republican and Democrat colleagues agree that separation is not and never was equal. Racism is wrong, segregation is wrong. Although this body has taken measures to ensure racism and segregation are not to be tolerated, it's lingering effects still persist,” Rep. Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann FoxxHouse passes bill to allow private lawsuits against public schools for discriminatory practices Pelosi huddles with chairmen on surprise billing but deal elusive House fails to override Trump veto of bill blocking DeVos student loan rule MORE (R-N.C.), the top Republican on the House Committee on Education and Labor,  said during debate on the floor ahead of the vote.

“... Title VI prohibits federally funded programs and entities from discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin. While the Democrats falsely characterize this bill as restoring a right, and indeed my colleague has just done that, in reality, this bill radically alters civil rights law without giving any consideration to its potential ramifications.”

The bill faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate.