MILFORD, Conn. — After Stone Academy abruptly shut all of its locations in February, a group of students is now filing a lawsuit.
"We were literally sold a ticket to a sinking ship," said Terencia Ridenhour, a former Stone Academy student and one of eight plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit.
Ridenhour was supposed to graduate from Stone Academy as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) this July. However, after almost two years of paying thousands of dollars to attend classes, the school suddenly shut down.
"I did not know that the school was under investigation. I did not know that the school was going to close. I literally found out on February 14th that the school was closing through an email," Ridenhour said.
Ridenhour said she even called the school that day to ask questions, and the person on the other line wasn't aware of the closure. She and hundreds of others are now in the same boat, stuck in a holding period until they get some answers on what to do next.
This, is all as the state is conducting an audit of Stone Academy.
As they sit in that holding period, Ridenhour and seven other students decided to come together and file a class action lawsuit.
"We're going to do the best we can, and we're going to fight hard for these folks," said David Slossberg, Partner at Hurwitz Sagarin Slossberg & Knuff, LLC.
The legal team at the local firm in Milford is representing the students.
"They relied upon the promises that they were going to be able to get this education. They could have gone somewhere else. And now, they're a year two in and they've lost that time of their life, all that sacrifice. Plus, the monetary aspect, with the tuition that they're out of," said Kristen Zaehringer, Partner at Hurwitz Sagarin Slossberg & Knuff, LLC.
The lawsuit alleges that Stone Academy portrayed itself as a reputable school, and never delivered.
"Not only didn't deliver but could not deliver. And yet they kept admitting students, they kept taking tuition," Slossberg said.
The lawsuit goes into detail about how in December of 2020, Stone Academy asked the CBNE to temporarily reduce clinical hour requirements. The lawsuit said it denied that request. Then, the lawsuit alleges that the academy asked the CBNE to increase its virtual clinical scenarios, which was again denied.
The lawsuit says: "Further, the CBNE passed a resolution that required Stone Academy to suspend all virtual clinical experience offerings, effective immediately."
"They continued to do it even when certain students were coming back and saying, 'We have concerns about that'. So, that's a big issue,'" Slossberg said.
The lawsuit then goes into detail about the academic achievements of the students at the school.
As graduating nursing students, everyone has to take an exam known as the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination). All students must get an 80% or above to pass. The lawsuit alleges "In 2022, all of Stone Academy's practical nursing programs fell below the 80% threshold."
It also alleges, "One in five faculty members were unqualified to teach their respective courses."
"Through it all, the students, they did what they had to do to become nurses. Even if we had to have study groups or teach ourselves the whole three chapters, we did it. So, it wasn't easy, but we did what we had to do to succeed," Ridenhour said.
On top of that, Ridenhour said she never got the in-person clinical experience she needed to graduate. In her experience, she said she only went to a week or two of clinical.
The lawsuit claims "Fifty percent (50%) of contact hours shall be in supervised direct client care experiences and observational experiences appropriate to the Program's Educational Outcomes."
Ridenhour said she did not get that experience.
"I did ask a specific person, like, are we still going to graduate on time because I was concerned about the clinicals. I know we need a certain amount of hours. And they told me, yes, you're still going to graduate on time, nothing's going to change," Ridenhour said.
Ridenhour said they can't get that time back, but they need something from the school.
"I need to fight. Like, we need to get what we're owed," Ridenhour said. "We're all one. We all were destined to be nurses. They need us out there."
Stone Academy's attorney has responded to the lawsuit with the following statement:
"The lawsuit ignores the fact that the Connecticut Office of Higher Education (OHE) and Department of Public Health forced Stone to close on short notice without legal justification and without following required processes to address exam passage rates or other concerns. OHE refused to allow a teach out program for Stone students that would have avoided the disruptions alleged in the lawsuit. OHE is now conducting an illegal audit to deprive students of their legitimately earned credits. We expect plaintiffs’ lawyers to join us in demanding that OHE cease its audit and permit a teach out – as has been done in previous school closures. We are reviewing options to ensure that the State and state officials assume legal responsibility for the harms they caused to Stone students that are improperly alleged against the school. Stone Academy will remain focused on assisting its students and graduates in pursuing their nursing educations and licensure. We will respond to the lawsuit more fully in court at the appropriate time but categorically reject its characterization of the quality of Stone students’ education and the circumstances of the school’s closure. "
-Perry Rowthorn, Partner, Jepsen Rowthorn, LLP
FOX61 did reach out to the Connecticut Office of Higher Education, and was told "No comment."
For those who are former students and have questions about the lawsuit, Slossberg said feel free to call his office at (203) 877-8000.
The OHE is also answering questions from Stone students at (860) 947-1600.
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