San Diego Community College District offices
San Diego Community College District offices. Courtesy of the district

The San Diego Community College District has joined a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education to allow California community colleges to use relief funds Congress approved to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lawsuit, filed Monday against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, asks the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to declare the Department of Education’s eligibility requirements for emergency grants to students under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act unlawful and unconstitutional and to halt their implementation.

The San Diego Community College District, the Los Angeles Community College District, the Sacramento-area Los Rios Community College District, the Fresno-area State Center Community College District and the Foothill-De Anza Community College District in Los Altos Hills are part of the case.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is representing the California Community Colleges Board of Governors and chancellor.

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

“Among those harmed are veterans, citizens who have not completed a federal financial aid application and non-citizens, including those with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status,” Oakley said.

The California Community Colleges serves an estimated 70,000 undocumented students, many of whom have DACA status.

“Although immediately following enactment of the CARES Act, the U.S. Department of Education took the position that this emergency relief is available for all students and that each higher education institution had discretion on how to distribute aid, it later issued guidance that took the position that only students eligible for federal financial aid under Title IV of the Higher Education Act may receive emergency federal assistance,” according to a California Community Colleges statement.

Also excluded are students who do not have a high school diploma or GED and those who are in high school and participating in dual enrollment programs.

–City News Service