A June 2018 court ruling prohibited Education Secretary Betsy DeVos from trying to collect on student debts related to a now-defunct predatory school, but DeVos opted to ignore the order — and now she could face jail time.
According to Newsweek, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim said she was “astounded” during a Monday hearing to learn that DeVos had violated the court order.
In a court filing, the Education Department revealed that “more than 16,000 former students at Corinthian College ‘were incorrectly informed at one time or another ... that they had payments due on their federal student loans’” and at least 1,800 people lost wages or tax refunds.
Kim said the department’s actions were “gross negligence” at best and “at worst it's an intentional flouting of my order.”
"I'm not sure if this is contempt or sanctions," she continued. "I'm not sending anyone to jail yet but it's good to know I have that ability."
Since taking over control of the Education Department, DeVos has attempted on multiple occasions to limit the scope of a program implemented to help students who were defrauded by predatory schools.
Under the 2016 Borrower Defense to Repayment program, as many as 335,000 former students of Corinthian College — among the largest for-profit college chains in the U.S. prior to filing for bankruptcy in 2015 — were entitled to have their student loan debts cancelled.
DeVos ignored about 160,000 applications made for student loan forgiveness under the program after assuming her post.
Roughly 80,000 Corinthian students sued the Education Department in 2017, alleging that under DeVos, the agency had ended loan forgiveness, Newsweek reported.
The department’s court filings showed that it had pardoned only 10 loans.
"There have to be consequences for violation of my order sixteen thousand times," Kim said, according to a release.