How to File A Complaint: Equal Access Act
Gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and similar student-initiated groups addressing Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender (LGBT) issues can play an important role in promoting safer schools and creating more welcoming learning environments. Nationwide, students are forming these groups in part to combat bullying and harassment of LGBT students and to promote understanding and respect in the school community. Although the efforts of these groups focus primarily on the needs of LGBT students, students who have LGBT family members and friends, and students who are perceived to be LGBT, messages of respect, tolerance, and inclusion benefit all our students. By encouraging dialogue and providing supportive resources, these groups can help make schools safe and affirming environments for everyone.
But in spite of the positive effect these groups can have in schools, some such groups have been unlawfully excluded from school grounds, prevented from forming, or denied access to school resources. These same barriers have sometimes been used to target religious and other student groups, leading Congress to pass the Equal Access Act.
In 1984, Congress passed and President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Equal Access Act, requiring public secondary schools to provide equal access for extracurricular clubs. Rooted in principles of equal treatment and freedom of expression, the Act protects student-initiated groups of all types. By allowing students to discuss difficult issues openly and honestly, in a civil manner, our schools become forums for combating ignorance, bigotry, hatred, and discrimination.
The Act requires public secondary schools to treat all student-initiated groups equally, regardless of the religious, political, philosophical, or other subject matters discussed at their meetings. Its protections apply to groups that address issues relating to LGBT students and matters involving sexual orientation and gender identity, just as they apply to religious and other student groups.
Although specific implementation of the Equal Access Act depends upon contextual circumstances, these guidelines reflect basic obligations imposed on public school officials by the Act and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The general rule, approved by the U.S. Supreme Court, is that a public high school that allows at least one noncurricular student group to meet on school grounds during noninstructional time (e.g., lunch, recess, or before or after school) may not deny similar access to other noncurricular student groups, regardless of the religious, political, philosophical, or other subject matters that the groups address.
How to File a Complaint of Violations of the Equal Access Act
There is no government body tasked with specific oversight of the Equal Access Act. However, several federal and state agencies do have authority to handle complaints based on civil rights violations. Complaints may be filed with the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office or on the Connecticut state level with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.
U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division
The Educational Opportunities Section enforces federal laws that protect students from harassment or discrimination. The Section is responsible for enforcing Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, and religion in public schools and institutions of higher learning; the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 which, among other things, requires states and school districts to provide English Language Learner (ELL) students with appropriate services to overcome language barriers; and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits disability discrimination. The Section also plays a significant role in enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin by recipients of federal funds); Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex by recipients of federal funds); and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (both of which address disability discrimination and appropriate disability-related services).
The Educational Opportunities Section accepts complaints of potential violations:
- By e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
- By telephone at (202) 514-4092 or 1-877-292-3804 (toll-free)
- By facsimile at (202) 514-8337
- By letter to the following address:
U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Educational Opportunities Section, PHB
Washington, D.C. 20530
In order to properly respond to a complaint, the Section requests that complainants provide their name, address, and the name of the school/school district/university where the alleged discrimination occurred. Additional information regarding how to file a complaint is available at http://www.justice.gov/crt/complaint/
United States Attorney’s Office – District of ConnecticutNew Haven Office – Headquarters
US Attorney’s Office
New Haven Office
Connecticut Financial Center
157 Church Street
New Haven, CT 06510
Fax: (203) 773- 5376
* for a list of U.S. Attorneys in other states go to http://www.justice.gov/usao/us-attorneys-listing
Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (Connecticut)
25 Sigourney Street
Hartford, CT 06106
Connecticut Toll Free 1-800-477-5737
Agency Mission: The mission of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) is to eliminate discrimination through civil and human rights law enforcement and to establish equal opportunity and justice for all persons within the state through advocacy and education.
Statutory Authority: Connecticut General Statutes, Chapter 814c. Link directly to the Connecticut General Statutes at: CT General Statutes 2011
It is the statutory responsibility of the Commission to:
- Enforce human rights laws that ban illegal discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and credit transactions.
- Monitor compliance with state contract compliance laws and with laws requiring affirmative action in state agency personnel practices.
- Establish equal opportunity and justice for all persons in Connecticut through education and outreach activities.
Connecticut law prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation such as schools. If students have been denied an opportunity for equal access in a place of public accommodation based on their protected class status, they may be able to file a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.