Nine former students who enrolled in Howard Payne University’s now-closed bachelor of science in nursing program have filed lawsuits seeking $200,000 to $1 million each from the university.
    The lawsuits, filed by the Houston law office of Richard Schechter, claims HPU made “false and misleading representations” to the public and current and potential HPU students.
    The plaintiffs claim violation of Texas Deceptive Trade Practices-Consumer Protection Act, breech of contract, fraud and misrepresentation, according to documents filed in Brown County District Clerk Cheryl Jones’ office.
    In May 2016, HPU withdraw its application for a pre-licensure nursing program to the Texas Board of Nursing due to the sudden  resignation of the School of Nursing’s dean, Shawntay Sparks-Hubbard.

The sudden departure of Sparks-Hubbard on May 13, 2016  forced current students — who had begun taking coursework with plans to ultimately complete the pre-licensure BSN degree — to choose new degree plans to guide their future course selections,  HPU said then.

Sparks-Hubbard first came to the university as its director of nursing in the summer of 2014, which was around the same time HPU started laying its groundwork for its pre-licensure BSN degree program. Among other requirements to provide to the Texas Board of Nursing, in order to implement the pre-licensure BSN program, one of the main necessities is having a full-time dean of nursing.

HPU said then that that the school’s proposal had been in the review stage and the proposal had been made clear to students before they applied to the university. Students were allowed to begin their prerequisite coursework at HPU with the intension of completing the BSN program upon its arrival.

HPU’s president, Dr. Bill Ellis, said via email in response to the lawsuits: “Howard Payne University has always been forthright in advising students that its proposed pre-licensure nursing program was pending approval by the Texas Board of Nursing. The university administration believed in good faith that it was on track to receive approval from the Board of Nursing, and we regret that the approval process could not be completed.
    “We continue to work diligently in assisting our students with their educational plans. The university will address the pending lawsuits, and we look forward to the full facts coming out through the judicial process.“
    The Houston law office of Thompson and Horton, representing HPU, filed a response denying the plaintiffs’ claims.
    HPU is not liable for reasons including the assumption of risk and contributory negligence, the response states.
    In letters from Schechter to Ellis on behalf of each plaintiff, Schechter stated:
    In 2012, HPU announced it would offer a bachelor of science in nursing program in the fall of 2014. HPU officials represented that the course work for the BSN would involve two years of general education classes followed by two years of nursing classes.
    Schechter’s letters gave details of each plaintiff’s circumstances, including a student who chose HPU over Angelo State when she learned of the BSN at HPU.
    HPU’s participation in the Patty Hanks Shelton School of Nursing consortium fell through, the student searched for a university to which she could transfer to obtain a BSM. Sparks-Hubbard told students it was a momentary setback and there would be a BSN program at HPU before they were scheduled to graduate. Based on those representations, the student stayed at HPU.
    In the spring of 2015, after completing most of her prerequisites, the student began taking nursing classes. The student was repeatedly assured the traditional BSN program would come into effect and she would receive a BSN degree.
    “Based on these representations and in reliance on the promises made by HPU, (the student) paid significant sums of money to HPU, in many cases going into debt …” the letter states.
    On May 19, 2016, the student received a letter from HPU saying HPU would not be able to offer the traditional BSN degree and she would have to find a new path.
    The student decided to attain a general studies degree from HPU rather than have her time there produce nothing, and planned to enroll at Tarleton State University to a BSN. The student learned at least seven of the courses she took at HPU were of no value in helping her attain a BSN from Tarleton.
    The student paid about $15,000 for the seven courses of “no transferable value” and has missed out on about $150,000 in earnings because of the delay in attaining a BSN, Schechter’s letter states.    
    The lawsuit claims Sparks-Hubbard was “neither legally nor professional qualified to serve as a director of a nursing program that offered a baccalaureate degree in nursing.” 
    The Texas Board of Nursing conducted an investigation into what transpired at HPU and filed a disciplinary action against Sparks-Hubbard. The action, which is pending, charges sparks-Hubbard “with actions involving lying, deception and harm to students, all committed in her capacity as head of the HPU School or Nursing,” the lawsuit states.