Update | Student Borrowers Speak Out in Unprecedented 500-Person Court Hearing on Borrower Defense

October 13, 2020

“I felt alone until this morning,” said Kishan Redding, speaking at a public fairness hearing held over Zoom, to a federal judge and more than 500 fellow student borrowers.

During a time when people have been more isolated than ever, these borrowers came together from across the country, gathering on Zoom for a remote hearing. They were there to share their views with the court about the proposed settlement in the borrower defense class action lawsuit, Sweet v. DeVos, in which the Department of Education agreed to decide on the more than 100,000 pending borrower defense applications within 18 months.

It became clear at the onset of the hearing that borrowers, the majority of whom are former for-profit college students, are not receiving fair and reasoned decisions on their claims.

After the settlement was filed in spring of 2020, the Department of Education began sending out blanket denials of borrowers’ claims – going so far as to send many students the exact same form denial letter. Many of the form letters denied relief due to a “lack of evidence,” despite the extensive evidence submitted, even in cases where other government enforcement agencies had found fraud.

As lawyers for the class, we argued that the Department was already acting in bad faith by issuing denials without consideration of these claims. During the hearing, it became clear that the students would not remain silent. Of the 500 who attended the hearing, more than 200 had asked to speak.

The court selected fourteen borrowers to speak; each gave heartfelt and emotional testimony conveying their frustration with the Department of Education and their lack of faith in a fair process.

Here’s some of what the speakers had to say.

“Our applications deserve real and legitimate consideration, not just a blanket denial,” said Rachel Greenbaum, a former student of the Brooks Institute of Photography. “We should be given all the reasons why so we can launch a factual appeal. We’ve been lied to and robbed blind with the Department of Education’s stamp of approval.”

“Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education should apologize to students, plaintiffs, and the court for treating this lawsuit like a joke. The Department has had plenty of time to address all of the claims, but instead used that time to ignore students and bend the rules to help for-profit schools,” said Hugh McGinley.

Other students like Victoria Linssen used their time to remind the court of the way for-profit colleges and insurmountable debt has completely changed the course of their lives.

“I lost my job, livelihood, home, car, was out of work for four years, was forced to move seven states and 1,800 miles away from my family to get work,” Victoria recalled. Even after Brooks was sued for defrauding students, she still didn’t see justice. “I was told the previous actions were cleaned up, but they continued to defraud and take new students up until the day they filed for bankruptcy,” she said.

Rebekah Sanchez Norton reminded the court of the influence these schools have on the lives of real people.

“As a working mother of four children, two of which are special needs, I was hopeful for justice,” she said to the judge. “Because of these loans, we are unable to provide for our families, unable to contribute to retirement funds, unable to apply for government funds. I’m sure there are others who were denied vehicles and couldn’t buy a home. I understand that my family’s financial devastation isn’t what’s being discussed today, but I believe public servants value honesty and integrity, and I hope the court will give us justice.”

As students spoke, others were participating in the Zoom “chat” function, sharing their own experiences with for-profit colleges and details of their denial notices. It was an all-too-rare moment of solidarity amongst people who had never met but have had similar experiences, with many exclaiming they received the same denial “word for word” and calling for justice.

“The predators at these schools have taken advantage of students, and we are entitled to a fair and thorough review of our claims,” Kishan Redding said.

“I deserve better, and the members of this class deserve better,” echoed Maureen Simmons.

Even after years of being lied to by their schools, ignored by their government, and struggling under the weight of fraudulent debts they cannot repay, student borrowers continue to show up and fight back.

The judge said that in his 21 years of hearing class actions, this was “the most interesting [settlement hearing] of all because over 500 people tuned in — way more than you would ever get in a normal class action — and we’ve done it so that people can show up from all over the country. It’s quite amazing.”

For more information on the Sweet v. DeVos class action, including case updates, visit the Sweet v. DeVos case page.