Stone Academy cancels classes sooner than anticipated

Published: Feb. 15, 2023 at 6:39 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 16, 2023 at 12:12 PM EST
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EAST HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) - The Stone Academy is closing its doors much sooner than it initially planned due to an array of issues that included unqualified staff.

The move leaves hundreds of nursing students without a school and without a degree.

The State Board of Nursing met on Wednesday. It discussed the issue for hours.

Notably missing from the meeting was the owner of Stone Academy, Joseph Bierbaum. Bierbaum is the owner of the LLC that runs Stone Academy. The Channel 3 I-Team tried to reach him a number of ways. He did not return phone calls.

During Wednesday’s board meeting, dozens of students gathered at the East Hartford campus to listen, including Brandon Dipinto.

“A lot of you emotion, you know. It’s hard. You know, we work so hard. Now like what do we do?” Dipinto asked.

Dipinto said he expected to graduate from Stone Academy in April. He left his full-time job for the academy’s practical nursing program.

“I wanted to help people. That was my biggest thing,” he said.

It’s unclear when Dipinto and his classmates will be able to graduate. The Office of Higher Education said it will need to audit every student’s transcript.

“Students can certainly feel like they are close to finishing because they have these hours here, but the issue is, we really don’t know. Those campus clinical hours cannot count. Those hours of instruction you got from unqualified faculty cannot count,” said Sean Seepersad, Office of Higher Education.

It’s unclear how long the audit process will take. After the audit, students will then need to find another program with an opening.

“Everybody has families, everybody has kids. They just need to get us through,” Dipinto said.

On Tuesday, executive director of the Office of Higher Education Tim Larson said programs would continue until March 27. However, the office said classes ended after Wednesday night’s classes.

The schools said they will remain open for administrative purposes until Feb. 24.

Kaelene Rivers, an LPN student who had nearly a month left before she obtained her degree, said the announcement came to them in the middle of class.

“The director came in, arms crossed, sadly to say with a little smirk on her face, saying classes are done, inclusively, you guys are all set to go home,” Rivers said.

Students received an email with schools they can apply to, but whether credits will roll over and when they’ll graduate is still up in the air.

“We were doing clinicals at the academy and we were told none of those clinical hours are counting,” Rivers said. “So we have to account for 800 hours, if I’m not mistaken, of clinical.”

Stone Academy is closing its doors. That leaves hundreds of nursing students without a school...
Stone Academy is closing its doors. That leaves hundreds of nursing students without a school and without a degree.(WFSB)

Rivers said there were red flags, but she and her classmates ignored the warning signs because their goal of becoming nurses.

“I’m a single mother of two kids. I have a 3-year-old. I missed out on 21 months of everything: Leaving home early, cutting my hours at work, my 10-year-old, her sports events. I spent so much of life, of everything, to devote myself to a school who just looked at us today and said, oops, too bad, we’re closing. Figure it out,” Rivers said.

The state asked students to fill out a survey to help it get a better idea of where students were and what needed to be done next.

“I’m going to become a nurse. I’m going to finish one way or another,” Rivers added.

The issue obviously did nothing to help a national shortage of nurses.

“Right now, literally all aspects of healthcare, whether it’s in the intensive care unit, the hospital setting, the outpatient setting, in the long-term care facilities, nursing homes, everyplace needs nurses,” said Sen. Saud Anwar, who represents East Hartford.

“Stone Academy’s staff will be available to students to assist them in any way possible until at least 5 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 24, 2023,” academy officials said.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong issued a statement on Thursday morning.

“The Office of the Attorney General has been working closely with the Office of Higher Education and Department of Public Health to address serious concerns regarding Stone Academy,” Tong said. “Students paid thousands of dollars in tuition to Stone, and the school did an extremely poor job. They were simply not preparing their students to be nurses. The pass rate at Stone was unacceptably low. Some of their faculty were not legally qualified to teach. Some of the clinical experience Stone offered was invalid. We are working closely with the Office of Higher Education, the Department of Public Health, and the U.S. Department of Education to ensure as smooth a transition as possible and to make sure that there are as many options as possible for these students who deserve the education they invested in.”