Former Stone Academy students await transcripts, protest in Hartford

Students protest in Hartford six weeks after Stone Academy announced an immediate shut down.
Published: Mar. 28, 2023 at 10:22 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 28, 2023 at 12:18 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) - Tuesday March 28th, marks six weeks since Stone Academy announced it was closing its doors on hundreds of students.

Students still do not have their own transcripts.

An I-Team investigation has learned the audit to look into those transcripts only began this week.

It all came down to money. The state and Stone Academy were going back and forth over who would pay the $200,000 needed for an audit.

Students gathered outside the Office of Higher Education building Tuesday March 28th for another protest. They continue to ask for their transcripts. Without a transcript, they cannot continue their education.

“We went to school for a purpose, and that purpose was to actually better our lives and do something that we love, and we’re not doing it,” said Marjory Marquez, a former Stone student.

The Office of Higher Education’s executive director, Timothy Larson, says the transcripts need to be audited because Stone Academy was using unqualified teachers and offering clinicals that did not meet state standards.

“The purpose of our review is really to benefit the students, so that they have an actual transcript, a document that they can use, put in their personal files and transfer credits that may be accepted to other schools or at last have a permanent record of where they stand,” said Larson.

Stone Academy’s owner, Joseph Bierbaum, signed a contract in January, before the school closed, to pay for such an audit. Bierbaum agreed to an audit after the state found a number of violations. However, a week and a half later, on February 6th, Stone Academy sent a letter to the state saying it was going to close all three campuses. It then became unclear what would happen with the audit.

“We want answers. We want to know when is the audit going to be done. How long is it going to take? Because we don’t have months to wait,” said Marquez.

On March 17th, Stone’s attorney sent a letter to the attorney general. The letter says because circumstances have changed, the audit is now “misguided” and “predetermined to inflict profound harm on hundreds of students.” Stone will not pay for the audit. Stone’s attorney is also now claiming it was t Timothy Larson who demanded Stone close in the first place.

The I-Team asked Larson directly, “Whose decision was it to close Stone?” Larson responded, “Stone. Would you like to see the letter?” Shortly after the interview, the Office of Higher Education sent Stone’s closing letter from February.

On March 27th, Larson signed a contract with the third party, CliftonLarsonAllen LLP, to conduct the audit of student transcripts. The contract says a report is due by the end of May. It’s unclear when students could start receiving transcripts.

Stone’s owner and attorney have denied the I-Team’s multiple requests for an interview over the last six weeks. Stone’s attorney, Perry Rowthorn, shared Stone’s response to the attorney general as well as the below statement.

Stone Academy’s focus remains on assisting its students and graduates in continuing their nursing educations without delay or disruption. We are deeply concerned with the misguided and chaotic conduct of the Officer of Higher Education in precipitating and compounding this crisis, failing to follow prescribed procedures to address concerns, misreading applicable regulations and facts, impeding students’ access to their transcripts, and threatening to nullify hard-earned educational attainments of approximately 1200 current students and recent graduates.

Contrary to the statements of OHE Executive Director Tim Larson, Stone’s abrupt closure was not voluntary. Rather, Larson rashly and improperly demanded Stone’s immediate closure and terminated Stone’s efforts to arrange an orderly teach out of its current students. Larson and his staff personally seized Stone’s student records in a haphazard manner – removing records seemingly at random, failing to inventory them, and transporting them in their personal vehicles. OHE now holds students’ transcripts hostage while he pursues an unprecedented and unnecessary “audit,” threatening to disqualify credit hours not documented by records that were not required to be kept and that OHE knew were not maintained when it reapproved Stone’s program multiple times over the last nine years, including in early 2022. We strongly oppose any audit pre-ordained to erase the educational progress of hundreds of students and will continue to advocate for the fair treatment of Stone’s student population.

Stone has not provided any proof that Larson demanded Stone’s closure.

The attorney general’s office is still actively investigating. The I-Team asked the office for an update and received the following response on March 28th:

“This is an active and ongoing investigation. We have received and are reviewing thousands of documents from our initial civil investigative demand. We have also sent two subsequent civil investigative demands and subpoenas for testimony to Stone’s leadership, specifically Richard Scheinberg and Joseph Bierbaum.”

Update: The Office of Higher Education tells WFSB that the money for the audit will come from the Student Protection Account. Occupational schools are required to pay into the account on a quarterly basis.