Former Stone Academy students hold rally after unexpected shutdown

Stone Academy students rally in Waterbury
Published: Feb. 20, 2023 at 6:05 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 20, 2023 at 6:56 PM EST
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(WFSB) - WATERBURY, CT (WFSB) - Former students of Stone Academy are continuing to voice their outrage over the abrupt closing of all three campuses.

On Tuesday, prospective students in Waterbury’s licensed practical nursing program protested outside the shuttered building.

The students are not only trying to bring attention to their own stalled careers, but they have a warning for how this whole situation could have a negative ripple effect on healthcare systems throughout the Brass City.

“You’re needed now more than ever and you’re just stopping us from moving forward,” said Felicia Meservey, former student at Stone Academy.

The protesting students at Waterbury’s Stone Academy campus know how much they’re needed in the already-strained medical field, because they’re already working in it.

“I actually went to Stone Academy in 2013 and I got my medical assistant there,” said Cynthia Brown, former Stone Academy student. “We’re short staffed, we’re trying to be LPNs because we’re in the field already trying to help.”

Their looming graduation dates for the licensed practical nursing program now feel like a slap in the face.

“When were you supposed to graduate?” Eyewitness News asked.

“November 11th of this year,” said Meservey.

“That’s not going to happen,” said Eyewitness News.

“No, it’s not,” Meservey said.

“I was in the March 18th, so 30 days,” said Kaelene Rivers, a former Stone Academy student.

“Last winter Waterbury Hospital Had to use LPNs because of the staffing shortage,” said Ed Gadomski, an internal organizer for CHCA District 1199, the union that represents workers at Waterbury Hospital and nurses in Waterbury’s public school system.

Gadomski said Stone Academy closing means fewer LPNs for school nurse jobs.

It’s a challenge for a district he says that’s still struggling to find candidates even after opening up positions to non-RNs.

“That they’re having difficulty finding RNs to come in, Gadomski said. “You look at the bigger picture and there’s a staffing shortage. So when a school like this closes it’s a step backwards.”

“That’s what I wanted to do was be a school nurse,” Meservey said.

As Stone Academy students struggle to get their transcripts and find new programs that will take their credits, the obstacles that feel personal have the potential to affect more than just their careers.

Those with the CHCA Union said the situation is even more interconnected as LPNs also tend to work in nursing homes. Fewer LPNs means it could take more time for patients to be transitioned out of hospitals to skilled facilities elsewhere.

Previous coverage:

Nursing students were at the East Hartford campus of the former Stone Academy on Monday where they rallied to get their voices heard and their credits honored.

The event kicked off at 11 a.m. and students said they invited several educational leaders and the school’s CEO.

The academy abruptly shut down last week following an array of issues, which included questionable passing rates, teachers who were not properly qualified, and insufficient attendance records.

“I read it and I was like ‘this has to be a joke.’ But obviously it wasn’t. I was devastated,” said Liddy Siggia, a Stone Academy student.

“It’s like they didn’t care,” said Symia Lyles, a Stone Academy student. “They just threw us right out with no questions asked.”

Students said they were heartbroken since classes abruptly ended. They said they want accountability and answers.

“It’s crushing. It’s really painful. You set your goal to help people out,” said Michelle Papapietro, a Stone Academy student.

“I dedicated my whole entire time to Stone Academy, working, only sleeping for three hours, and then coming here for 8 hours a day,” said Taj Ledford, a Stone Academy student.

“I want to cry every day to be honest. We had to set up childcare. We had to pay childcare,” said Marjory Marquez, a Stone Academy student.

Marjory was three clinicals away from graduating.

“We did a lot to be able to finish and for them to close like that. I’m upset. I want to cry every day. This is really sad,” Marjory said.

“I put a lot of hard work, sweat, and tears into my education here at Stone Academy,” Lyles said. “I mean, being a single mother of three, it’s not easy.”

To get credits honored, Lyles helped organize the rally at the East Hartford campus.

“We are hoping to have them follow by the law which stands behind us that is that we should have a teach out plan where they would finish out the education that we started and for our credits to be honored,” Lyles said.

“They need to honor our credits. We work hard, we studied, we put in the time, late night studying when my kids were asleep. Trying to get in the hours to be able to support my family better. Now it’s being taken away from us. They need to honor a teach out plan which is lawful,” said Sarah Houra, a Stone Academy student.

“The state has liability too because the state knew this school was in some kind of danger and nobody notified those students,” said Cynthia Jennings, Civil Rights Attorney.

The Office of Higher Education said it is planning to provide resources for students at a fair in Hartford the week of Feb. 27. It was designed to help eligible students with refunds and loan discharges.

For students looking to apply to other programs, the Office of Higher Education said it is in the process of auditing transcripts.

East Hartford Mayor Michael Walsh said the list of events that has unfolded have been heartbreaking.

“I think we’re at the beginning of a much longer process, and we look forward to Stone Academy sorting out what we’re going to do for these students,” Walsh said.

“A lot of the students, including myself, have worked very hard, like extremely hard underneath the circumstances,” Lyles said. “We all have different stories, but the main thing is we worked hard for our education, we worked hard for our credits, and we want them to be honored.”

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said his office plans to go after the academy.

Nursing students were at the East Hartford campus of the former Stone Academy on Monday where they rallied to get their voices heard and their credits honored.
Nursing students were at the East Hartford campus of the former Stone Academy on Monday where they rallied to get their voices heard and their credits honored.
Nursing students were at the East Hartford campus of the former Stone Academy on Monday where they rallied to get their voices heard and their credits honored.
An unexpected shutdown leaves students with a lot of unanswered questioned.