HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Teen Presses Case Against Drug Rule
Pubdate: Sun, 11 Mar 2001
Source: Cincinnati Enquirer (OH)
Copyright: 2001 The Cincinnati Enquirer
Contact:  2055 Reading Rd., Cincinnati, OH 45202
Feedback: http://enquirer.com/editor/letters.html
Website: http://enquirer.com/today/

TEEN PRESSES CASE AGAINST DRUG RULE

Bill Would End Student Aid Revocations

A Fairfield teen's drug conviction and, later, his quest for financial aid 
now involve U.S. Rep. Barney Frank.

The Massachusetts Democrat recently introduced legislation that would 
repeal a 1998 provision in the Higher Education Act that made people 
convicted of drug crimes ineligible for college financial aid.

Russell Selkirk, a 19-year-old sophomore at Ohio State University, is among 
8,000 students nationwide who lost financial aid this year because of the 
provision.

Mr. Selkirk admitted on last year's financial aid appli cation that he had 
been convicted of two misdemeanor drug crimes. Later, he learned his 
honesty caused his application to be denied.

"It was ridiculous that I was, in essence, paying consequences for the same 
crime twice," he said.

"That financial aid would have greatly helped. It probably would have taken 
a lot of weight off my shoulders and my parents' shoulders," said Mr. 
Selkirk, who works up to 30 hours a week in a grocery store while attending 
college full time.

The 1998 provision took effect in July. It specifies that those convicted 
of their first drug offense cannot receive aid for a year. The second 
offense means two years' ineligibility, and a third offense leaves a 
college student forever ineligible.

Mr. Frank's proposed repeal already has garnered support from politicians, 
civil rights groups and student government associations, said Peter Kovar, 
Mr. Frank's spokesman.

They are saying the measure unfairly punishes only one kind of criminal and 
it harms students' chances for turning their lives around.

"We're singling out drug crimes here," Mr. Kovar said.

"You can be a murderer, but you don't lose your aid. It's unfair in that 
sense."

The repeal also hits low- and moderate-income families hardest because 
wealthy parents are better able to afford the cost of fighting their 
children's drug charges and of sending them to school, he said.

While a college freshman, Mr. Selkirk was caught smoking marijuana in the 
parking lot of a bar. He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of drug 
abuse and possession of drug paraphernalia.

He was sentenced to 20 hours of community service, his license was revoked 
and he was ordered to pay $250 in court costs and fines.

Now he is treasurer of For a Better Ohio, an OSU group that aims to reform 
federal drug laws and has fought for the legalization of marijuana.

"I do believe it's wrong to penalize someone's educational opportunities 
for their previous transgressions. I don't think that's right," said Mr. 
Selkirk's father, Douglas, a General Electric supervisor.

Mr. Selkirk's parents took out a loan to pay for his sophomore year at OSU. 
They say they are staunch Republicans -- they disagree with their son's 
stance on legalizing marijuana -- but they are proud of his position on the 
1998 education provision.

"He's sticking up for something he believes in. I'm proud of him for that," 
Mr. Selkirk's father said.
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