Students ask Courts to Stop the Department of Education from Denying Borrower Defense Claims | Blog

November 6, 2020

Borrowers seek to enjoin Secretary DeVos from issuing any further denials and to vacate the blanket denials issued since June.


After a historic hearing last month in which a judge slammed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ blanket denials of students’ borrower defense claims and rejected a proposed settlement in our case Sweet v. DeVos, student borrowers are holding the Department of Education accountable in new and important ways.

In a new filing in the case last week, class members asked the judge to issue a preliminary injunction to stop the Department from issuing any further denials, and to vacate the tens of thousands “potentially unlawful” denials that were sent to 94% of borrower defense applicants since June 2019.

The hearing last month in which over 500 borrowers joined via Zoom marked a turning point for these borrowers. The judge was struck by class members’ “shared trauma,” and class members experienced a unique moment of strength and solidarity. Fourteen borrowers were selected to speak at the hearing, but hundreds more joined in on the Zoom chat to share their experiences and support one another.

“It was amazing how many people were on that call,” said Jennifer Lezan, a former Art Institute student whose borrower defense was denied this summer after being ignored for three years. “When one person started reading their denial letter, which was identical to mine, I messaged the group on the chat. So many others responded and said theirs was the same too. It gave me chills.”

Rachel Greenbaum was among the fourteen students who spoke at the hearing. She said it was an emotional experience, but extremely validating to see that speaking out actually makes a difference.

“I hope that every person I went to school with, every student of a school that shut down because of fraud, we all deserve to be let out from this heavy burden. Our lives have been on hold. I’m 41 years old. I’ve been working hard and paying these loans but barely making a debt in the interest. I’m going to be in debt until I die for a degree that’s not even real and I refuse to accept that.”

Rebekah Sanchez Norton was a single mom when she was recruited to Brooks Institute of Photography and scammed by the school. “I worked so hard while they constantly lied and gave me the run around,” she said. “This has been life destructive. I thought I destroyed my children’s lives. And yet I still always had faith that the government would ultimately do the right thing and not let students be defrauded, especially when faced with the mountain of evidence. But we’ve been treated like we’re trying to get something we’re not owed when we’re just asking for justice.”

Rebekah says that if the denial she received were to be vacated and her loans cancelled, it would be life changing. For years, she has not been able to save for retirement. She has not been able to borrow money to pay for her family’s home or car. When she applied for a better job and they checked her credit, she was not hired for being “at risk of corruption” because her debt was so high. She says debt cancellation would finally mean some stability for her family and her kids’ futures. It would also restore some of her faith in government.

“If nobody is enforcing the rules it’s a mockery of our entire system,” she said. “It would be really validating for someone to acknowledge that this was really messed up what happened to us and we’re not going to let it happen to future generations.”

These former for-profit college students join tens of thousands more across the country who have remarkably similar stories. They share a renewed motivation to get justice for themselves and for each other.

“It took me a really long time to stop feeling sorry for myself, and then I got pissed off,” said Jennifer Lezan. “The system is broken and I’m not going to be able to fix it by myself. That’s why I’m so adamant about making sure people know that this was corruption and these schools took advantage of us. People talk about ‘debt forgiveness’ but we don’t need to be ‘forgiven’ for a school’s bad decision to put profit in front of people. We deserve better. Our kids deserve better. And I’m going to keep fighting for that.”

For the most recent updates on Sweet v. DeVos visit our click here.