Connecticut Attorney General Sues For-Profit Stone Academy Nursing School

Connecticut filed a lawsuit against a for-profit nursing school. What does that mean for hundreds of nursing students?
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Published on July 31, 2023
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  • Over 800 nursing students attended the for-profit nursing school.
  • The lawsuit alleges that Stone Academy defrauded students.
  • Students may be eligible for tuition reimbursements.

Stone Academy, a for-profit nursing school in Connecticut, abruptly closed its three campuses in February. The move affected hundreds of nursing students. According to prominent state officials and a new lawsuit against the school, the move was motivated by greed.

After conducting an investigation, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong filed a civil lawsuit in July against Stone Academy. The lawsuit alleges that Stone Academy defrauded students.

"Stone promised hands-on training from industry leaders and education that would position students to become licensed practical nurses in less than two years," Tong said during a Hartford press conference. "These were lies. Lies."

Connecticut's Lawsuit Against Stone Academy

Stone Academy raked in millions of dollars in profits while providing inadequate education to nursing students, the lawsuit alleges.

According to the lawsuit, the school used aggressive marketing and recruiting tactics. Those students, many of whom were Black and Hispanic women, paid the school $30,000 or more to become licensed practical nurses (LPNs).

At the same time, the school relied on unqualified instructors and failed to provide clinical training, the state's investigation determined. Connecticut officials found that Stone Academy's pass rate for the NCLEX-PN exam was below 80%, failing to meet state requirements for approved nursing schools.

An audit paid for by the state determined that unqualified instructors taught 28% of the classes at Stone Academy. The audit also determined that 76% of clinical hours lacked proper documentation.

The audit demonstrates that Stone Academy failed to prepare students for nursing careers, said Tim Larson, director of Connecticut's Office of Higher Education (OHE).

"Unfortunately, these audited transcripts demonstrate Stone Academy was not providing most of its students with the education they need to be prepared to take the NCLEX or practice as an LPN," Larson said in a statement.

Connecticut's lawsuit alleges a violation of Connecticut's unfair trade practices act, in addition to breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

"What we’ve seen is not just unjust and wrong but we’ve seen … Connecticut families, working women devastated by this crisis," Attorney General Tong said. "This is a textbook case of consumer deception."

Student Lawsuits Against Stone Academy

In addition to the state's civil lawsuit, former Stone Academy students have also filed a class action lawsuit against the school. The nursing school's closure in February affected roughly 800 students.

The class-action lawsuit comes from students who enrolled at Stone Academy between 2018 and 2023. These students allege that the nursing school failed to provide the education it promised. According to the lawsuit, the school's CEO also misled students about the closure.

Stone Academy's students logged over 90,000 clinical hours that failed to meet state requirements. An audit determined that clinical sign-in sheets lacked critical information such as the instructor's name and the location. One student even received clinical hours for visiting a museum.

The affected students began receiving audited transcripts in July 2023. These transcripts list the Stone Academy courses that will not count toward licensure requirements. Some students will be eligible for a "teach-out" program to complete their LPN training. Others will need to apply to a state-approved nursing program to start over.

Symia Lyles attended Stone Academy's East Hartford campus. Lyles expressed frustration about the impact on students.

"They're punishing students when they should really be getting at other people," Lyles told CT Insider. "It should be on them, not on us."

Stone Academy released a statement to The Associated Press pointing the finger at the state.

"Stone's efforts have been focused on helping students," the statement read, "but this lawsuit will require Stone to aggressively seek to hold OHE’s leadership and other state officials accountable for their severe mismanagement of this matter and the harm they continue to inflict on hundreds of students and graduates."

Connecticut's current budget directs OHE to refund the tuition paid by qualifying Stone Academy students.

The Risk of For-Profit Nursing Schools

Stone Academy is one of several for-profit nursing schools that have recently faced lawsuits. In early 2023, the U.S. Department of Justice charged over two dozen individuals, alleging they took part in a scheme to sell nursing diplomas from southern Florida nursing schools, including from two for-profit nursing schools.

"There are over 7,600 people around the country with fraudulent nursing credentials who are potentially in critical healthcare roles treating patients," said acting Special Agent in Charge Chad Yarbrough, FBI Miami.

States across the country have taken steps to pull licenses from unqualified nurses. The nursing schools involved have closed.

In 2022, Stratford University, a for-profit institution in Virginia, also closed, affecting hundreds of nursing students. One of those students, Kathleen Estrada, had just six classes left before graduation.

"I felt very numb in the beginning," Estrada told WTOP News. But after spending $20,000 in tuition, Estrada said, "I can’t do nursing again. I’m not doing that, it’s way too much money."

As for the students at Stone Academy, Larson promises, "My office will make sure students are refunded for their out-of-pocket tuition payments that are refundable under the law and know the options available to them to complete their education as quickly as possible."