Several former students of Stone Academy, a now-shuttered for-profit nursing school in Connecticut, have filed a federal lawsuit against two state agencies. The lawsuit alleges that Connecticut’s Office of Higher Education (OHE) and Department of Public Health (DPH) invalidated their course credits, withheld licenses, and damaged their professional reputations. This legal action comes after the sudden closure of Stone Academy earlier this year and subsequent state investigations.
Five months after the school’s closure, the state agencies published an audit of the former students’ records. However, the students’ lawsuit claims that the unauthorized audit conducted by the OHE deemed a significant portion of their credit hours invalid. According to the lawsuit, 76% of the plaintiffs’ over 100,000 credit hours were declared invalid, causing substantial setbacks for these individuals. The audit found missing information on clinical attendance sheets, such as instructor names, as well as instances where the student-to-instructor ratio was exceeded as reasons for invalidating credits. The final report also highlighted that museum visits and writing assignments were potentially substituted for clinical hours in certain cases.
The former students assert that the actions of the OHE and DPH went beyond the scope of their authority, severely impacting their professional futures. Attorney David Slossberg, who represents the students, argues that rather than assisting the students in a difficult situation, the state agencies exacerbated their predicament. Slossberg claims that the audit should have been the end of the matter, but instead, the agencies took matters into their own hands without providing the students with an opportunity to appeal the decisions. Consequently, the reputation of these hardworking students has been forever tarnished.
Targeting Graduates and License Applicants
In addition to auditing active students, the state agencies also focused on graduates of Stone Academy’s practical nurse program. A DPH document from April expressed concerns about whether recent graduates had received the necessary education and training to practice effectively as licensed practical nurses (LPN). As a result, a “free training refresher course” was offered to all LPN license applicants from the school. Applicants who passed the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) were required to sign a “stipulated agreement” committing to complete the refresher course before using their license. Slossberg asserts that the students were coerced into signing the agreement under the threat of investigation.
Students who signed the agreement and took the NCLEX exam in March were forced to wait several months for employment due to the unavailability of the refresher course until October. This delay further impeded their career progression and had a direct impact on their livelihoods. Slossberg emphasizes that the NCLEX is a nationally accepted standard for establishing the competency and safety of entry-level practical nurses, and the state’s actions in this case were unwarranted.
In May, former students represented by Slossberg filed a separate lawsuit against Stone Academy’s parent company and the school’s owners, holding them accountable for their actions. The lawsuit accused the school of enrolling students despite knowing it could not adequately provide accredited courses and clinical experiences. In a positive development for the students, they were granted $5 million in a prejudgment trial remedy in December.
When asked about the unusual decision to sue both state officials and the academy’s owners, Slossberg clarified that their primary goal was to hold accountable those individuals who were in positions of trust and failed to fulfill their responsibilities. This second lawsuit seeks justice for the students who have suffered due to the negligence and wrongdoing of these parties.
The audit and stipulated agreement have affected approximately 1,200 students, creating an alarming situation for all those involved. However, there is hope on the horizon in the form of a fund established by the OHE to reimburse impacted students. With approximately $263,000 allocated for reimbursement, these funds are expected to be distributed in 2024. Although the process may take time, it provides a glimmer of hope for the affected individuals seeking redress.
The former students of Stone Academy who have filed the federal lawsuit against the OHE and DPH deserve a fair chance to pursue their nursing careers without unnecessary obstacles. The alleged violations of their rights, invalidation of academic credits, and tainted professional reputations expose shortcomings within the state agencies. It is crucial that justice is served, and the responsible parties are held accountable for their actions. The resolution of this lawsuit will have long-lasting implications for the students and the future of nursing education in Connecticut.