Nov 21, 2023 - Politics & Policy

More schools face Education Department probes over alleged discrimination

A view of the University of Tampa and Hillsborough River in 2010. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The University of Tampa and a Florida school district have joined a growing list of colleges and K-12 school districts being investigated by the Department of Education over alleged incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia.

The big picture: In light of the Israel-Hamas war and the resulting uptick in antisemitic and anti-Muslim threats on college campuses, the Education Department has reiterated schools' responsibility to comply with a federal civil rights law that addresses discrimination.

  • Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, institutions have a legal obligations to provide all students a school environment free from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin.
  • "Hate-based discrimination, including based on antisemitism and Islamophobia among other bases, have no place in our nation's schools," the Department said in letter to schools and universities earlier this month.

Driving the news: The University of Tampa and Hillsborough County Schools joined 6 colleges and a K-12 school districts being investigated over Title VI.

  • A second investigation was launched into Columbia University.
  • The probes were made public by the department Tuesday, and while they didn't share details on the ongoing cases, the list of schools being investigated over such incidents will be updated weekly.
  • A University of Tampa spokesperson told Axios in an emailed statement that the incident occurred in September and was addressed by the university.
  • "The University is fully cooperating with the [Department of Education's] request for information, but cannot comment further due to student privacy laws," the spokesperson added.
  • Hillsborough County Schools did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

Of note: The latest investigations come in a state where a battle is already playing out between universities, pro-Palestinian student groups and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

  • The University of Florida's Students for Justice in Palestine filed a lawsuit last week with the ACLU against school leadership and DeSantis for allegedly violating its First Amendment rights with an order to deactivate its group.

Catch up quick: Last week, the department announced investigations into Lafayette College, Cornell University, Columbia University, Wellesley College, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, and the University of Pennsylvania.

  • The Maize Unified School District in Kansas is also under investigation.
  • Five of the probes involve allegations of antisemitic harassment, and two concern allegations of anti-Muslim harassment, per the department.

State of play: Schools that fail to take action to address discrimination could risk losing federal funding or being referred to the Justice Department for "further action."

Go deeper: Israel-Hamas war becomes flashpoint on U.S. college campuses

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