Connecticut AG sues nursing school after abrupt closure

Stone Academy, a for-profit nursing program in West Haven, Conn., which shut down in February, is now facing a lawsuit from the state's Attorney General William Tong alleging violations of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act.

The lawsuit filed by the attorney general claims that instead of the qualified faculty and nursing licensure exam preparation it promised students, multiple of Stone Academy's staff "performed work for [the owner, Joseph] Bierbaum's other for-profit school, Paier College, as well as a home improvement company launched by Bierbaum in 2020," court documents read.

"While students suffered from plummeting exam pass rates, disappearing clinical opportunities, and a dearth of qualified faculty, Stone's owners got rich," Mr. Tong said in a July 13 news release. "As Stone's nursing program collapsed, Bierbaum took tuition money and spent it to promote his other business — Paier College of Art. Stone's so-called 'dedicated' staff were also running Paier and in one instance Bierbaum's own home improvement contracting business. This was not a victimless scam. Stone students took on thousands of dollars in debt and spent hundreds of hours away from their families and jobs to become nurses and improve their lives."

The program — which cost attendees upwards of $30,000 — was initially shuttered after failing to address compliance issues including: unqualified faculty, invalid student clinical experiences and recording attendance, a Feb. 14 news release stated.

Students who were affected by Stone Academy's initial closure were supplied with a guide to transfer to other programs if they wished to continue their education.

The lawsuit is also not the first filed against it. In May, eight of the institution's former students filed a class-action lawsuit also under the state's unfair trade practices act. In court documents, they claim Stone Academy's leadership continued to market itself as a place for professional healthcare training despite being aware that 1 in 5 faculty were unqualified to teach students.

The program also reportedly only provided students with a fraction of the necessary 860 hours of clinical training it promised and "knowingly hiring entry level and associate degree nurse instructors who should never have been permitted to teach practical nursing students under applicable regulations," the lawsuit claims. 

The Office of the Attorney General is seeking civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation, — which it notes could total up to millions of dollars — for the program's violations of the unfair trade practices act in addition to restitution for its former affected students, according to the news release.

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