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NC Education Lawyer Blog

  • Writer's pictureCharmaine Neves

Discrimination in Private Schools

Can private schools discriminate?


Our office is regularly contacted about discrimination in private schools; specifically whether private schools can discriminate against students and applicants. The short answer is: yes, sometimes.


Choosing the right school for your child to attend is an important decision.

In North Carolina, options for school vary from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling. Private schools are monitored by the Department of Administration’s Division of Non-Public Education, ensuring that they remain in agreement with state law.(https://www.doa.nc.gov/).


According to the US Department of Education, many private schools take part in federal financial assistance programs and are bound by federal anti-discrimination laws regarding any programs or activities that receive federal funds. North Carolina law necessitates private schools to follow the requirements of Title VI, USC § 2000d (Civil Rights Act of 1964) that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, and national origin which means that they cannot prevent students from enrolling on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, or disability status.


When it comes to the protection of students with disabilities, students can attend private schools that are under contract with public and charter schools and keep their right to a free and appropriate public education (“FAPE”), in a least restrictive environment (“LRE”). However, if a family chooses to waive the services offered by their public schools and elects for a “parental placement” for their child instead, they may also give up FAPE and LRE.


Let’s look at instances where private schools are “allowed” to discriminate or where the behavior does not count as being discriminating. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, private schools must be willing to provide “auxiliary aids and services” to students with disabilities as long as the accommodations would not change the essential nature of the program or result in substantial difficulty or expense. However, if a private school does not offer programs intended to meet a student’s special needs, the private school’s inability to serve that child is not considered discrimination.


Religious private schools can also discriminate on the basis of religion which means the refusal of the admission of students who practice a different faith and can be excluded from classes or expelled for violating the school’s faith-based code of conduct.


In the end, parents should consider what type of behavior is unacceptable to them and their child and consider a school set up that shows the most consistency in this area.

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