Shelby County Schools subject of federal civil rights probe over migrant students

Shelby County Schools is being investigated for discrimination of migrant students, the U.S. Department of Education confirmed Wednesday.

The department’s Office for Civil Rights has opened a probe of Tennessee’s largest school district “involving issues affecting English learners and limited English proficiency parental communication, under Title VI,” department spokeswoman Dorie Nolt said in an email.

Title VI prohibits discrimination based on race or national origin in programs that receive federal funding.

The Associated Press reported in May that the Tennessee district was among several school systems nationwide to discourage unaccompanied minors from Central America from enrolling in its schools.

At risk for Shelby County Schools is the loss of federal funding, although an investigation is many steps removed from such a drastic measure.

If the federal investigation does find evidence the district is violating civil rights law, the Office of Civil Rights would ask its leaders to “negotiate a resolution.” A lawsuit against the district would be a final course of action.

Shelby County Schools spokeswoman Natalia Powers declined to comment about the investigation on Wednesday evening. “It is our practice not to comment on the existence/nonexistence of any inquiry from the Office of Civil Rights,” Powers wrote in a text.

As recently as 2012, Memphis City Schools was investigated by the Office of Civil Rights for discrimination against students with disabilities. Then, the district avoided a lawsuit by agreeing to better communicate with parents of children with disabilities about their rights.