Students fight against FAFSA drug policy

Students of Sensible Drug Policy have filed a class action lawsuit against United States Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings alleging that an amendment in 2000 to the Higher Education Act is unfair and biased.

The amendment stipulates that federal financial aid will be denied to students with a drug conviction of any kind for at least a year or until the student completes a drug rehabilitation class.

Over 175,000 students have been financially strained because of Question 31 on the Free Application for Financial Student Aid or FAFSA. Though most have continued with their education and found it to be no more than a bump in the road, some are not so easily assuaged.

Students in the lawsuit contend that it is biased because it will most often affect economically disadvantage students and minorities who historically have a higher arrest rate. Though aid is returned to students who complete rehabilitation, the SSDP question why it is exclusive of drug convictions and not crime overall including murder, rape, assault and burglary.

Sam Houston State University junior Lindsey Sommerlatte does not understand the law’s inclusiveness either. Even though she believes it may get help to people with drug problems, which is a good thing but she feels the amendment should have better wording and include other types of crimes.

“It is ridiculous that it doesn’t include all crime,” said Sommerlatte.

Her reaction is the same as state representative Mark Souder; the author of the amendment who believes that taxpayers should not have to pay for students who commit crimes and wrote the amendment as a way to limit funding to students who are dealing or doing drugs. He is now considering including another amendment that would be inclusive of all crime including rape, assault and burglary.

One SHSU student who asked to be called “Mark” lost his financial aid but successfully completed his class and had his financial aid reinstated the next semester instead of having to wait an entire year. He says that though the class was slightly informative and very boring, it was not all that bad and he learned something.

Mark said, “I do think it needs to be inclusive of other crimes and not just drugs.” He was busted for less than two ounces of marijuana but thought it was a fair policy for a first time offense at least until he realized that others who were breaking the law on campus and receiving financial aid were not being held to the same standard.

Others still suggest that the amendment penalizes a student for making a bad choice and does not give them the opportunity to change. Souder says, “The law is constitutional and does not punish students but encourages them to seek treatment.”

So how does this effect student on the campus of SHSU? The online catalog does not mention any of exemption of financial aid to students with any kind of conviction and a perusal of grants applications show no questions concerning past or current convictions.

However, the Dean of Student’s Office has an online posting of expected behavior for all Sam students on its Code of Student Conduct Web site and while it says little about losing financial aid it says quite a bit about expulsion, repayment and other appropriate action to be decided by the University.

If you decide to just omit answering question 31 on the FAFSA, don’t. Your application will be disqualified automatically.

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