New Jersey lawmaker calls for investigation into cosmetology school shutdown

State council officials said there are 10 schools in the state that are ready to accept displaced CAPRI students. | Rogelio V. Solis / AP Photo

Assembly member Mila Jasey calls on the state attorney general’s office to open a criminal investigation into the sudden shutdown of a for-profit cosmetology school that students say left them without a clear path, without proper documentation of the hours they saved and potentially thousands of dollars wasted in prepaid tuition and student loans.

CAPRI Institute students say they were told in early December that the school, which has four locations in New Jersey, would be “Temporary closure” for 30 days. The students said they received unofficial and unsigned transcripts recording their program hours and never heard from the school again.

Calls to the Paramus campus, as well as to the school’s other sites in Clifton, Kenilworth and The Brick went unanswered on Thursday. It is estimated that 1,000 students attend the four CAPRI sites.

“We are upset, frustrated, disgusted – this behavior is absolutely despicable,” Mary Theroux, Jasey’s chief of staff, said in a phone call Thursday. “It’s just a borderline crime, I’m not sure it’s not criminal behavior. It’s theft, it’s deception, it’s horrible.”

Theroux said Jasey (D-Essex) is calling for a full investigation into CAPRI, which “has vanished from the face of the earth,” leaving “students who have borrowed money through federal student loan programs [and] who may find themselves with no other recourse than to take out more loans. ”

The State Council of Cosmetology and Hairdressing held an emergency meeting with representatives of the Attorney General’s office on Thursday, during which they waived regulations and agreed to allow CAPRI students to be transferred to other establishments.

During the virtual meeting, a number of students – all young women – shared personal stories about the thousands of dollars they invested in their studies, the time and energy they devoted to working to get their licenses and the uncertainty they now face.

“I was supposed to graduate in May,” said Jada Goodrich, a student at CAPRI’s Brick Institution. “I have jobs in place, I have different things in place for me, I also have a family. It’s okay to pause everything and I don’t have a say.

Goodrich said she paid thousands of dollars out of pocket and received financial assistance to help her complete her education, but now she is stuck not saving hours, not receiving any education and is under contract. with CAPRI, therefore, she cannot attend another school in the meantime.

Kenilworth student Donnisha Parker said she had just passed the state exam for estheticians (skin care professionals). and he only had 13 days left until he graduated. Now, she said, she doesn’t know what to do.

The state council voted on Thursday to relax the regulations of other cosmetology schools regarding student assessments and class sizes, in particular to allow them to accommodate around 1,000 CAPRI students affected by the closures.

State council officials said there are 10 schools in the state that are ready to accept displaced CAPRI students.

Yet Jasey and the students are calling on the state to take further action against CAPRI which, according to the school’s website, was founded in 1961 by Helmut Muenster, a man “highly regarded and well known in the three states as “the man with the golden scissors.”

Alexandra Helder, a cosmetology student at the Paramus site, said that while it is “great” that the board is helping to facilitate the transfer process, “what if CAPRI reopens for a while? week ? We are still technically under contract and responsible for all tuition fees [payment]. “

Other students said they received a discount for paying their full tuition in advance when they enrolled. According to a tuition calculator on the CAPRI website, tuition for the general cosmetology program could cost as much as $ 18,000, although other programs that require specialized tools may incur higher costs.

Tobey Palan, assistant attorney general in the state’s Consumer Affairs Division, told students that she and the state council lack information from CAPRI and currently cannot handle any payment or contract issues. Students should email the state council with their individual complaints, she said.

“CAPRI has not communicated in any way with the board office,” Palan said at the meeting. “I wish I had a crystal ball, I wish I could tell you that CAPRI contacted us and told us what was going on.”

Jay Malanga, executive director of the Cosmetology and Hairdressing Council, said the closures were “a complete and unexpected surprise to all of us,” adding that the council had not received any notification.

Julie Borst, executive director of Save our Schools NJ, said her daughter Maddie, who has special needs, was among the students left behind by the sudden shutdown.

She said her daughter completed her program and graduated, but the school is keeping her exit papers which she still has not received.

Borst said the state should do more, either through the attorney general’s office or through legislation or regulations, to prevent post-secondary vocational / technical schools from closing without notice to students, staff. and to the state.

Gema de las Heras, Information Officer at the Consumer Affairs Division in the State Attorney General’s Office, said that since December 1, when the school was closed, “we have received approximately 31 complaints against the CAPRI Institute and are actively working to help affected consumers.

Longtime state board member Fran Tomeo said “this is not our first school shutdown rodeo.” In years past, she said, schools have closed smoothly, following the rules and making sure students have the documents they need to be successful in other programs.

In this case, CAPRI has disappeared without a trace, and the board has been given “limited information” on what is going on, she said.

“I feel as a board member I’m left in limbo,” Tomeo said during the meeting. “In all the years that I have served on the board, I have never seen anything like it. ”

Theroux said Jasey’s office is making this issue a top priority for the next legislative session and is working on legislation requiring private schools that close their files to submit their files to the Department of Labor or the Department of Education.

“I never realized that could happen in a place like New Jersey,” Theroux said. “It is incomprehensible to us that you can have an entity that has been in existence for 45 years in four places that closes on twelve hours’ notice, shuts down and vanishes into the night.”

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