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'Fessing up

The Department of Education is warning more than 306,000 incoming college freshmen that they need to come clean about any criminal history with drugs or risk missing out on federal financial aid.

The students failed to answer a question about past drug convictions on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form when applying for financial aid, said Karen Santos Freeman, a spokeswoman for the department's office of student financial assistance.

Department officials have notified the students of the omission by stamping a warning on the student-aid forms that were returned to them, as well as sending a follow-up letter. The students are asked to call the department at (800) 4FEDAID as soon as possible to discuss the matter, Ms. Freeman said.

The query was added to the 100-question application this year to enforce a 1998 law that prevents convicted drug offenders from receiving federal money, Ms. Freeman said. The law takes effect July 1.

Ms. Freeman speculated that many students didn't initially understand the question, skipped it, then forgot to go back and answer it. Others left it blank on purpose, she surmised.

Meanwhile, some college students are protesting the law.

"The law places obstacles in the path of at-risk students who are trying to better their lives though education," said Kris Lotlikar, the national director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a Washington advocacy organization.

The measure was intended to keep federal aid only from students who are currently using drugs, said Angela K. Flood, a spokeswoman for Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., who was a co-author of the law. But the Education Department's questionnaire asks students to disclose drug convictions at any time in their past.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., has introduced a bill that would repeal the legislation, but no action has been taken on it.

—Julie Blair

Vol. 19, Issue 30, Page 23

Published in Print: April 5, 2000, as Federal File

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