Dade Medical College Students, Staff Express Concerns Over Closure at Town Hall

A town hall meeting was held Thursday evening for students impacted by the closure of the six-campus Dade Medical College.

"It's not fair. I don't think that we should be the ones being punished," said Irene Pantoja, student.

Almost in tears, Pantoja said she left the town hall meeting with more questions than answers, "We literally all thought that tonight meant a third option, a light at the end of the tunnel, more hope. And at the end, it's just stuff that's not gonna happen."

The forum, hosted by Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, featured guest speakers from legal services and the Office of Consumer Protection. Frustrated Dade Medical College students made their voices heard hoping the lawmaker can get through to the Florida Department of Education.

"They just don't need reforms tomorrow, they need answers today, and the Department of Education is not gonna be here in Miami directly helping these students until December. That is a huge disappointment to me," Rep. Rodriguez said.

The for-profit college suddenly shut down its six campuses last month, leaving roughly 2,000 students in limbo. Some said they owe thousands of dollars in student loans for an education they never received and other schools won't accept their credits.

"I didn't put two years of my life to sacrifice for someone to just take it from me and have to repeat everything," said Heather Gagliardi, student.

Students aren't the only ones outraged. One former employee, who didn't want to be identified out of fear of retaliation, said she lost her job without notice.

"By the way, there is no money and your insurance is running out tomorrow because it was the 30th and 31st was last day of health insurance. And by the way, you're not going to get paid for the last three weeks because there is no money," the employee said.

"Somebody has wiped my life of two years under my feet and it's wrong," Gagliardi said.

Dade Medical College had been under scrutiny over its finances and the poor performance of its students on certification exams when it abruptly closed last month.

It's sudden closure left its roughly 2,000 students and several hundred employees trying to figure out how to get their money back, how to complete their nursing degrees, or out of a job.

The school's owner, Ernesto Perez, pleaded guilty to charges of illegal campaign contributions and resisting arrest Monday as part of a plea deal with prosecutors.

Besides serving three days in jail, Perez will have to pay a $150,000 fine and do 160 hours of community service.

Perez will surrender on Jan. 5. He'll be under house arrest for 30 days and then on probation for three years.

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