Nine former students of Black Hawk College are suing the school after they were unable to graduate from Black Hawk's veterinary technician program.
The students are suing the Moline-based school on 15 separate counts, including fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation, breach of written contract and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The college is seeking to dismiss the case, arguing the students were aware of the accreditation process.
The students' arguments
The students enrolled in the program in fall 2017, when the program started, and were to graduate in spring 2019, according to the lawsuit.
Some had previously been in the school's veterinary-assisting program but were recruited to the new major, said Aaron Miers, one of the students' attorneys.
The students were reportedly told to come to a mandatory meeting a few days before they were scheduled to graduate. At that meeting they were told the program didn't have initial accreditation from American Veterinary Medical Association, so they wouldn't be able to graduate. The school had allegedly claimed to have this accreditation in previous informational meetings and in the student handbook.
"The students, when they were told that they had initial accreditation, they obviously took Black Hawk College at their word. Of course, why would they question what their own institution is saying?" Miers said.
Peter Wenker, another of the students' lawyers, said Black Hawk hadn't finished the application process for initial accreditation when students were told it had initial accreditation.
Full AVMA accreditation requires multiple years of evaluation after a program has received initial accreditation, but students who graduate from a program with initial accreditation are qualified to take the Veterinary Technical National Exam and become certified vet techs.
None of the students has been able to take the national exam. The school has since received initial AVMA accreditation, and a class graduated in 2020, Miers said.
According to the AVMA website, the school received initial accreditation in November 2019.
"The school reformed its program entirely after the big reveal that they had really messed up," Miers said. "So, the class behind them got the benefit of the improved program, whereas the students that are party to the lawsuit did not get that same benefit."
Black Hawk's vet tech classes allegedly failed to fulfill multiple of the requirements for AVMA accreditation before spring 2019. The students who are party to the lawsuit weren't able to transfer their credits to an accredited program.
The lawsuit states the program did not have a director who is a licensed veterinarian or a credentialed veterinary technician, and that multiple vet tech classes were taught by instructors who did not know anything about being a veterinary technician. There was reportedly a math class taught by a regular math instructor with no experience in veterinary technician mathematics, and an animal anatomy class that was taught by a human anatomy instructor.
Wenker said the timing had been difficult for the students, since the COVID-19 pandemic had changed the job market.
"The hard part about this is it would have already been difficult to graduate when they should have considering the pandemic, and to find jobs," Wenker said. "Who knows where the job market's going to be now by the time they're actually able to take their exam and become fully licensed and then employable in the profession that they chose. It's just a very difficult time for them, I think."
The college's response
Black Hawk College filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, stating students were told repeatedly the program was seeking AVMA accreditation. Before admission, the college maintains the applicants signed a form that stated:
"I understand that completion of the veterinary technician program does not automatically guarantee a graduate the right to take the licensing examination or become licensed as a veterinary technician."
The motion to dismiss also listed other reasons that some of the specific charges in the lawsuit should be dismissed, including citing the Illinois Tort Immunity Act, which grants immunity to local public entities and public employees from lawsuits regarding negligence in executing their public duties.
John Meineke, director of marketing and public relations for Black Hawk College, said they could not comment on individual students or their educational information. He said there was no delay in the Vet Tech Program's accreditation application and that it was submitted consistent with the timelines required by the accrediting body.
Meineke also said Black Hawk's Vet Tech program currently was accredited by the AVMA but did not clarify that it had only initial accreditation.