ABA Law Day: For Schools: Lessons 4-6: Equal Protection

For Schools

Grades 4-6: Equal Protection
Teaching About Equal Protection of the Law


During your session, students will

  • identify the experience of discrimination
  • distinguish between permitted and illegal discrimination


As these terms come up in discussion, list them on the board and elicit definitions from the students. (Students may complete the following Activity Sheet after your visit.)



1. Begin class by introducing yourself and telling the students a little about yourself. Say you’re glad to have been included in the class’s plans for the day. Then ask, "What does it mean to include someone?" Wait for responses; ask students to give examples. Then ask, "What does it mean to exclude someone?" Tell students that today you are going to talk about including and excluding people. Ask whether anyone knows the legal term for excluding people. Write the word discrimination on the board.

2. Direct students to the handout "Not Including Everyone!" Ask a volunteer to read each situation aloud.

3. Then ask the students to suggest answers to the questions posed for each situation. Explain that you are asking students to give their opinions about these situations and that you are not trying to make them guess what the law requires. Write each response on the board as it’s suggested. Try to get two or three different responses to each question.

4. After you’ve written down the responses, debrief by asking how many students thought in the first situation that it was right to let boys in the neighborhood start a club and keep girls out. How many thought it was wrong? Explore students’ feelings about being excluded and doing the excluding. Ask for a show of hands on whether the government should force the boys’ club to include the girls. Encourage students to give their reasons. Tally the results on the chart below, which you can draw on the board.



Force Inclusion

No Inclusion Force


5. Do the same with each of the other situations.

6. Make the following points after students have given their answers and discussed their reasons. Reassure students that their opinions are valid.

Under the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and freedom of association, and under various civil rights laws, the law provides that --

a. People in their highly personal relationships generally have the right to associate with people that they like without interference from the government. Therefore, the law would not force a neighborhood group of boys to include the girls in their club. However, if a club had government involvement (such as getting money from the government), the government might force the club to admit girls.

b. When people are involved in offering goods and services to the public, such as shopping, housing, education, and jobs [list these on the board], they are not allowed to wrongfully exclude people for reasons such as race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or age [list these on the board]. Therefore, the store owner may not exclude people of Vietnamese ancestry from his store. But not all discrimination is wrongful under the law. Examples: the store owner refuses to sell alcohol to minors; the store owner refuses to hire a blind delivery person.

c. In the case Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982), the Supreme Court ruled that children of people who came to this country illegally cannot be denied the same free public education available to other children. The Court expressed that it was especially concerned that these children would be forever "second-class citizens" without an education. The vote was 5-4.

7. Ask students to name one thing that they learned in today’s class.