WATERBURY, CT (May 3, 2023) –Former students of Stone Academy, a nursing school that operated in three Connecticut locations, commenced a lawsuit, by complaint dated May 2, 2023, seeking compensation and punitive damages for the school’s “abject failure” to provide promised education and training despite assurances that the school would ready them to become licensed practical nurses.
Stone Academy was a for-profit, family enterprise initially acquired by self-described educational entrepreneur, Mark Scheinberg of East Hartford, and run by his stepson, Joseph Bierbaum of Rocky Hill.
The lawsuit will proceed in Connecticut Superior Court in Waterbury against Stone Academy, members of the Scheinberg family and its most recent CEO, Gary Evans, of Wethersfield, for participation in, and control of, the unlawful trade practices that severely impacted Stone Academy’s former students.
“These students sacrificed considerable amounts of money, labor, and countless hours in return for the promise that Stone Academy would provide them with the instruction and knowledge required to become licensed practical nurses,” said David A. Slossberg, name partner of law firm Hurwitz Sagarin Slossberg & Knuff LLC (HSSK), Milford. The law firm is representing the students.
“Many of these students interrupted successful careers in healthcare and other fields to follow dreams of becoming nurses,” Slossberg said. “Instead, Stone Academy cheated them of an education and deceived them, collecting tens of thousands of dollars in tuition in exchange for deficient training, clinical programs that did not even meet regulatory standards, and hiring of at least 20 percent of its staff that were unqualified to be teaching the course work. Stone Academy failed its students in every conceivable way.”
The lawsuit seeks class certification for the more than 1,000 students who studied nursing at Stone Academy’s three Connecticut campuses between 2018 and the school’s abrupt closure on February 14, 2023, and/or graduated from its nursing program from November 2021 to closure. Exact figures for the number of possible plaintiffs and the total potential damages lie in Stone Academy’s records and cannot be determined until the litigation is underway.
Kristen Zaehringer, an HSSK partner and litigator, said, “the school’s administrators were well aware of the deficiencies in its educational program, particularly the non-authorized, clinical programs. It is hard to understand how, in good conscience, they passed them off to their students as sufficient for their degrees.”
“Even after being told by the state that remote training by computer was unacceptable, and that certain on-campus clinicals were equally unacceptable, the school persisted, masquerading that these useless clinical hours were moving them toward certification,” Zaehringer added.
Like all accredited institutions in Connecticut, Stone Academy was required to reach or surpass a pass rate of 80 percent on the National Council Licensure Examination. However, in all six of its programs in 2022 (day and night programs on each campus), they were well below the minimum.
“For example, Stone even had an astonishingly low 43 percent pass rate for the night students in West Haven,” Slossberg said. “The school should have acknowledged its ongoing failings, stopped recruiting students, refunded students for its failures, and seen to it that existing and prospective students were able to pursue their education elsewhere without wasting their time and money on false promises. Instead, they continued to accept students and misrepresent that they could deliver a suitable education.”
While eight named plaintiffs are named in the complaint, more than 1,000 others are in a similar situation. One of them is emblematic:
Terencia Ridenhour of Waterbury was already a Certified Nursing Assistant and worked in the medical field since she was 16. Among other positions, she has been a companion, a medication administrator, and a group home supervisor. She currently works as a Patient Care Technician at Danbury Hospital.
- Ridenhour, a wife and mother, enrolled at Stone Academy as a full-time student in 2021 after researching various programs, planning to become a registered nurse.
- She borrowed approximately $24,000 for tuition, though it was difficult for her family to get by without her former salary.
- Ridenhour earned straight A’s and expected to graduate this year with high honors. It all ended on February 14, when the school folded without warning. Without compensation from Stone Academy, she probably can never return to her nursing education.
The allegations in the HSSK complaint against the school and is officers and owners include multiple violations of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act including failing to disclose its impending closure to students who expected to graduate within weeks or months of February, and:
- Hiring unqualified faculty for the classrooms.
- Advertising itself as offering “needed” training from “industry leading professionals, despite knowing that some 20 percent of faculty were in fact unqualified.”
- Recruiting and admitting students on false and misleading representations.
- Advertising the school’s ability to place students in “the most desirable job opportunities” when no such services existed.
- Continuing to aggressively collect tuition even after it had announced to the Department of Higher Education that it was closing the entire program.
- Failing to “prepare and assist students in acquiring the basic knowledge and skills necessary to be hired into an entry-level position as a Licensed Practical Nurse.”
The legal complaint also claims that Stone Academy breached its standard contract with the students, its implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and was unjustly enriched.
In addition to David A. Slossberg and Kristen L. Zaehringer, the legal team at HSSK includes associates Timothy C. Cowan and Kyle A. Bechet.
About Hurwitz, Sagarin, Slossberg & Knuff
For more than 50 years, this boutique law firm has been driven by a desire to create opportunities for clients, to resolve their issues, and to advocate for their interests. HSSK has a core competency in complex business litigation and land use. The firm also provides mediation and arbitration services. www.hssklaw.com 203-877-8000.