Federal Aid Is Focus of a Lawsuit by Students
Washington, March 21 — A student organization is suing the United States Education Department over a law that denies federal financial aid to 35,000 students a year because they were convicted of drug offenses while receiving the aid.
The class-action suit, which the American Civil Liberties Union is to file on Wednesday in federal court in South Dakota on behalf of an organization called Students for Sensible Drug Policy, names the secretary of education, Margaret Spellings, as a defendant.
The named plaintiffs are three students who lost financial aid after misdemeanor drug convictions. They represent 200,000 students with drug records who also lost financial help since the first version of the law was passed in 1998.
Valerie Smith, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said she could not comment on pending litigation.
The suit contends that the law is unconstitutional because it amounts to double jeopardy, further penalizing students who were already punished by the courts.
The suit also argues that the law violates the students' right to due process, and disproportionately hurts African-Americans, who are more frequently convicted of drug offenses than whites.
Kraig Selken, a plaintiff and a senior at Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., was convicted of misdemeanor drug possession last year, and has lost state aid as a consequence of losing federal aid. The assistance covered nearly his entire tuition bill of $3,000 a year.By Diana Jean Schemo