California Community Colleges sues Betsy DeVos over CARES Act relief requirements

The Department of Education is being sued due to requirements in the CARES Act that prevents undocumented and DACA students from getting funds.

By Gabriel Arizon, Editor-in-Chief

The California Community Colleges are suing the U.S. Department of Education over restrictions in the CARES Act relief funds that prevent thousands of students from receiving monetary aid.

On Monday, CCC Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley filed a lawsuit against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos due to “arbitrary eligibility restrictions” that prevented many students — particularly undocumented and DACA students — from getting relief funds. According to a press release, the intent of the suit is to declare those restrictions unlawful and unconstitutional and to halt its implementation.

“The Department of Education ignored the intent of the CARES Act to give the local colleges discretion to aid students most affected by the pandemic,” Oakley said, “and instead has arbitrarily excluded as many as 800,000 community college students.”

Joining the lawsuit against DeVos is the Los Angeles Community College District, the Los Rios Community College District and the San Diego Community College District, among others. Their case will be represented by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

According to Oakley, there was an expectation that the colleges would be allowed the flexibility to determine who would receive emergency aid based on need. However, after the Department of Education issued an FAQ that imposed restrictions on the usage of those funds, Oakley began to question the legality of said restrictions, thus leading to the suit.

“What we hope is that the restriction is lifted and that makes it a lot easier for our colleges to use those federal funds to provide emergency aid and not have to pull funds from somewhere else,” Oakley stated, “which … pull funds from other students who are also deserving of support that the state is providing.”

Valley College has already used more than half of the $3 million in CARES Act funds for students, according to President Barry Gribbons. The other half will be distributed through emergency grants, though the process and the amount awarded are still being determined. To get an emergency grant, a student must have a Pell award and be eligible for federal financial aid. However, the school is also planning a workaround for students who do not meet the requirements.

“We’re committed to ensuring our Dreamers are also supported, so we’re making arrangements for $300 awards,” Gribbons said.

Oakley stated that they will know within the next two weeks whether the case will go forward. If not, then the colleges will continue to find workarounds to give undocumented students aid.

“We will continue to stand firm behind our students, particularly our undocumented students, and advocate for them to receive the support that they deserve to be successful,” Oakley said. “Our campuses will continue to be a place of safety and stability for them.”

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