Southwestern College Joins Chancellor’s Lawsuit Against U.S. Secretary of Education

pillars and entrance to a United States Court House
United States Court House

U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers today will hear Southwestern College’s request for a preliminary injunction in California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley’s lawsuit against U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Southwestern College and eight other California community colleges filed an amicus brief on June 1 in support of the chancellor’s lawsuit. The lawsuit seeks to stop the U.S. Department of Education from placing arbitrary eligibility restrictions on relief funds Congress approved to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The chancellor’s federal lawsuit, which included five California community college districts, was filed May 11 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California San Francisco Division.

In filing the lawsuit, Oakley said the Department of Education ignored the intent of the CARES Act to give local colleges discretion to aid students most impacted by the pandemic. Congress authorized local colleges’ flexibility to disburse the funds without imposing eligibility requirements. Instead, DeVos required recipients to demonstrate eligibility, which excluded many veterans, citizens who have not completed a federal financial aid application and non-citizens, including those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status.

The amicus brief was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Oakland Division on behalf of Southwestern College and eight other California community college districts. The other eight colleges and districts are: Cabrillo College, Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, Rancho Santiago Community College District, Rio Hondo Community College District, San Francisco Community College District, San Jose-Evergreen Community College District, Santa Monica Community College District and South Orange County Community College District. Together the nine districts serve 325,000 students.

“The Secretary of Education’s exclusionary practices are creating even more victims of the pandemic,” said Southwestern College Governing Board President Nora E. Vargas. “Community colleges serve the most low-income students, the most first-generation college students, the most students of color and the most undocumented students. Excluding these students, who have the fewest resources from this funding, does irreparable harm.”

The brief further states the eligibility requirements are unlawful and challenging for districts. Because all districts had moved to remote operations, it is impossible to individually evaluate the eligibility of the 325,000 students the colleges serve, the brief states.

Southwestern College received $4.62 million to distribute to students. To date, the college has distributed $2,087,800 of the federal funds. Southwestern has distributed $21,650 in funding from donations and state funding to students who did not qualify for the federal CARES funding. Additionally the Southwestern College Foundation has distributed $77,700 in private funding to students for COVID-19 grants.