Stone Academy students protest and talk to their attorney, Cynthia Jennings, about their demands, including establishing teach-out plans. “It causes anxiety and really messed up my life, but I’m not going to give up,” said Chiquita Lucy, who was supposed to graduate in September. “I’m going to keep fighting until we get the justice that we deserve.” Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

The state’s Office of Higher Education has agreed to pay for a $200,000 audit that will analyze the records of Stone Academy nursing students and the validity of their course and clinical work.

The for-profit nursing school shut down abruptly on Valentine’s Day, with no advance notice to students.

The office’s contract with Clifton Larson Allen was signed Monday after several weeks of a back-and-forth battle between the Office of Higher Education and Stone Academy about who would pay for the audit.

The audit will be funded by the state’s student protection account, which private occupational schools across Connecticut pay into every three months.

News of the contract came shortly after a dozen Stone Academy students protested with their friends and family outside the state’s Department of Education building Tuesday morning, demanding answers about their futures.

[RELATED: Stone Academy students left in limbo as they await audit]

The signed contract is the first step forward for these students, who have been waiting in limbo for their transcripts and to find out whether they’ll be able to transfer credits to outside institutions or have to start their practical nursing programs over.

“If we can’t get our transcripts to count, I can’t do another two years of school,” said Patty Bapst, who was set to graduate from Stone this year. “I’m 50. My husband has been taking care of the housing, paying all the bills. My son has been helping pay bills while I was going to school … I can’t do another two years. At this point, the whole health care job skills right now leaves such a bad taste in my mouth. Nobody gets treated the way they should in health care.”

The audit contract was initially drafted on March 14 but wasn’t signed until nearly two weeks later as the Office of Higher Education waited for the expense to be approved through its budgetary process.

When the audit will begin remains unclear, as the Office of Higher Education plans to meet with CLA to determine what records it will audit first, according to a spokesperson from the Office of Higher Education. All the students’ files have been submitted to the firm already, the spokesperson said Tuesday.

Several students at the protest, as well as an attorney contacted by some students, spoke in opposition to the audit on Tuesday morning.

“The audit is not a good idea. You already have your credits. You already went to school. You have already borrowed student loan money. You should not have to have an audit to determine whether your credits are good or not,” said Cynthia Jennings, an attorney who’s been in discussion with students about potential legal action. “Some of these students are ready to graduate, but they can’t take their boards. Some of them need remedial assistance.”

Jennings met with Tim Larson, the executive director of the Office of Higher Education, on Tuesday afternoon, a spokesperson said. Jennings told students at the protest earlier in the day that she would forward their concerns, including their request that the department come up with a plan for students to finish their course work at another institution.

The contract between the Office of Higher Education and CLA is in effect until June 30.

Jessika Harkay is CT Mirror’s Education Reporter, covering the K-12 achievement gap, education funding, curriculum, mental health, school safety, inequity and other education topics. Jessika's experience includes roles as a breaking news reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Hartford Courant. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Baylor University.