Racism-Free Schools Law – Effective August 1, 2024

The Racism-Free Schools Law (P.A. 103-0472) was passed by the Illinois General Assembly in August 2023 and goes into effect August 1, 2024, for the 2024-2025 school year.

Policy & Procedure Requirements

The Racism-Free Schools Law requires every school district, charter school, and nonpublic, nonsectarian elementary or secondary school, by the start of the 2024-2025 school year, to create, implement, and maintain a written policy prohibiting discrimination and harassment based on race, color, and national origin and prohibiting retaliation. The Racism-Free Schools Law provides that such a policy may be included as a broader anti-harassment or anti-discrimination policy provided that the policy must be distinguished with an appropriate title, heading, or label. The policy must include descriptions of the forms of discrimination and harassment, the school/school district’s internal complaint process for violations of the policy, and an overview of the school/school district’s prevention and response program, potential remedies for violations, a prohibition on retaliation for making a complaint or participating in the complaint process, the legal recourse available through the Illinois Department of Human Rights, and direction on how to contact the Illinois Department of Human Rights. 105 ILCS 5/22-95(b).

The Racism-Free Schools Law also requires every school district, charter school, or nonpublic, nonsectarian elementary or secondary school to establish procedures for responding to complaints of discrimination and harassment based on race, color, and national origin and retaliation. These procedures must permit any person who makes a report or a victim to be accompanied by a support individual, permit anonymous reporting, offer remedial interventions or disciplinary action, offer the opportunity to resolve allegations directly with the offender, and prevent retaliation. 105 ILCS 5/22-95(c).

For IASB PRESS subscribers, new Policy 2:270, Discrimination and Harassment on the Basis of Race, Color, and National Origin Prohibited, is included in the March 2024 PRESS Issue.

Policy Posting & Distribution Requirements

The Racism-Free Schools Law requires the policy be posted on the school/school district’s website. In addition, the new law requires the policy to be annually posted in a prominent and accessible location and distributed to ensure notice of the policy to all employees. Posting on the school/school district’s website or employee intranet satisfies this requirement. 105 ILCS 5/22-95(b)(2).

The Racism-Free Schools Law also requires the policy be published in the school/school district’s student handbook. Additionally, a summary of the policy in accessible, age-appropriate language must be annually distributed to students and parents/guardians. Including the summary in the student handbook (in addition to the policy) satisfies the requirement to annually distribute the summary. The summary of the policy must be provided in a parent/guardian’s native language. 105 ILCS 5/22-95(b)(3).

Training Requirement & Model Training Program from IDHR

The Racism-Free Schools Law requires the Illinois Department of Human Rights to produce a model training program for elementary and secondary education institutions to prevent discrimination and harassment based on race, color, and national origin. The model training program must regard participants as potential bystanders, rather than potential offenders, and at least include the components outlined in the law. The model training program must be made available to schools/school districts at no cost. 775 ILCS 5/5A-103(b).

The Racism-Free Schools Law requires every institution of elementary or secondary education in Illinois to use the model training program developed by IDHR, establish its own training program that equals or exceeds the minimum standards set forth in the law, or use an existing discrimination and harassment prevention training program that equals or exceeds the minimum standards set forth in the law. The law also provides that IDHR’s model program may be used to supplement any existing program an institution of elementary or secondary education is utilizing or develops. Schools/school districts must provide the required training as a component of all new employee training programs for elementary and secondary education representatives and to existing representatives at least once every two years. 775 ILCS 5/5A-103(c).

As of when this article was published, IDHR has indicated that the model training program will be available on August 1, 2024.

The Racism-Free Schools Law also includes a reporting and enforcement mechanism for the training requirement. The new law states that upon notification of a violation of the training requirement, IDHR may launch a preliminary investigation. If IDHR finds a violation of the training requirement, IDHR may issue a notice to show cause, giving the school/school district 30 days to correct the violation. If the school/school district does not correct the violation within 30 days, IDHR may initiate a charge of a civil rights violation.

Illinois Human Rights Act Amended

The Racism-Free Schools Law amended the Illinois Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on a protected category in elementary, secondary, and higher education. It defines “harassment in elementary, secondary or higher education” as “any unwelcome conduct by an elementary, secondary, or higher education representative toward a student on the basis of a student’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, sex, marital status, order of protection status, disability, military status, sexual orientation, pregnancy, or unfavorable discharge from military service that has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with a student’s educational performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational environment.” 775 ILCS 5/5A-101(F). Further, it defines the “educational environment” to include “conduct that occurs at school, school-related activities, or events, and may include conduct that occurs off school grounds, subject to applicable State and federal law.” 775 ILCS 5/5A-101(G).

The Racism-Free Schools Law further provides that it constitutes a civil rights violation under the Illinois Human Rights Act for: (1) an elementary, secondary, or higher education representative to commit or engage in harassment in elementary, secondary, or higher education; (2) an elementary, secondary, or higher education educational institution to fail to take appropriate corrective action to stop harassment if the institution knows a representative was committing or engaged in harassment; or (3) an elementary, secondary, or higher education educational institution to fail to meet its reporting requirements to ISBE, as discussed below. The law specifies these provisions apply solely to nonsectarian institutions of elementary, secondary, or higher education and elementary, secondary, or higher education representatives employed by such nonsectarian institutions. 775 ILCS 5/5A-102(C)-(F).

ISBE Data Collection Requirements

The Racism-Free Schools Law requires ISBE to build a data collection system for reported allegations of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation against students received by each school district, charter school, or nonpublic, nonsectarian elementary or secondary school each reporting year (August 1 to July 31). The new law requires all school districts, charter schools, and nonpublic, nonsectarian schools to provide the reports to ISBE beginning on the August 1 after ISBE puts the system in place. The required reports to ISBE include any allegations of sexual harassment; discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, or national origin; discrimination or harassment on the basis of sex; discrimination or harassment on the basis of religion; discrimination or harassment on the basis of disability; and retaliation. The required reports also must include the status of the allegations as of the last day of the reporting year (July 31). The allegations must be reported as unfounded, founded, or investigation pending by the school district, charter school, or nonpublic, nonsectarian elementary or secondary school. Schools/school districts are prohibited from including any individually identifiably information in the reports. 105 ILCS 5/2-3.196.

The Racism-Free Schools Law provides that if a school fails to provide ISBE with the required data by 14 days after receipt of a written request by ISBE following failure to file by the reporting deadline, ISBE may initiate a charge of a civil rights violation with IDHR. ISBE must publish an annual report aggregating the information reported by schools/school districts.

Finally, the Racism-Free Schools Law amends the Illinois Freedom of Information Act to exempt from disclosure the data compiled under the new ISBE data collection system on discrimination, harassment, and retaliation described above. 5 ILCS 140/7.5(iii).

Contact an HLERK attorney with your questions about this new law and its many requirements.

Source:           P.A. 103-0472 (eff. 8/1/24)