Section 263: Private occupational schools; oversight by division of professional licensure
Section 263. (a) As used in this section, the following words shall, unless the context clearly requires otherwise, have the following meanings:?
''Division'', the division of professional licensure established in section 8 of chapter 13.
''Private educational organization'', a non-public entity, including an individual, firm, partnership, association, corporation, organization, trust or other legal entity or combination of such entities, that maintains a place of business within the commonwealth or solicits business within the commonwealth to provide classroom instruction, distance education or both.
''Private occupational school'', a private educational organization, not specifically exempted by subsection (c), that conducts courses, for profit or by charging tuition, for the purpose of training or preparing individuals for a business, trade, technical or industrial occupation, or any other vocational purpose, including correspondence schools, private business schools, private trade schools and similar entities designated by the division.
(b) The division shall have the following powers and duties: (i) administer and enforce this section; (ii) adopt rules and regulations governing the licensure and the operation of private occupational schools as may be necessary to promote the public, health, welfare and safety of citizens and residents of the commonwealth including mandating liability insurance and other such requirements; (iii) grant licenses to qualified applicants; (iv) approve the curriculum, instructors and staff, as defined by the division of licensed schools; provided, that the division shall adopt and publish reconsideration procedures for decisions relative to curriculum, instructors and staff; (v) investigate complaints, conduct inspections, review billing and student records and set and administer penalties as defined in this section for fraudulent, deceptive or professionally incompetent and unsafe practices and for violations of rules and regulations promulgated by the division; and (vi) review, under section 172 of chapter 6, the criminal offender record information of principals, administrators, employees and other individuals related to private occupational schools for purposes of licensure and reviewing complaints.
(c) All private occupational schools operating in the commonwealth shall be licensed by the division; provided, however, that this section shall not apply to: (i) a school, college or other educational institution chartered and authorized by the commonwealth to grant degrees; provided, however, that non-degree programs offered through such a school, college or other educational institution by a third party shall be licensed by the division; (ii) a school conducted by any person or entity for the education and training of such person or entity's employees with no fee or tuition being charged to the employees; (iii) a school exclusively engaged in training persons with disabilities; (iv) a school providing distance learning or online correspondence services having no place of business in the commonwealth; (v) recreational programs conducted for the purpose of relaxation and enjoyment regarding instruction in non-occupational pastimes, exercise or other such diversions; (vi) programs owned and operated by established religious institutions for the purpose of providing religious instruction; (vii) courses of instruction conducted by a public school district or combination of public school districts; (viii) private schools or programs conducted for the education of students in grades pre-kindergarten through 12; (ix) incidental training associated with the purchase of a product from a vendor; provided, however, that the training is to familiarize the purchaser with its use and the purchaser is not awarded any form of a certificate or diploma for having received the training; or (x) other programs designated by the division.
(d) Any person or entity desiring to operate a private occupational school within the commonwealth shall submit to the state auditor, in the manner prescribed by the auditor, such financial information as may be required, including, but not limited to, ownership and organization of the school, the financial condition of the school and the form and content of the student enrollment agreement to be used by the school. In carrying out this section, the auditor is authorized to review the full records of the school and may carry out on-site reviews of the school.
If, after investigation, the state auditor finds the applicant is financially qualified to operate a private occupational school, the state auditor shall notify the division of the applicant's eligibility to apply for a license to operate a private occupational school. The state auditor shall thereafter re-establish the eligibility of licensees when the state auditor considers, in the auditor's discretion, that such an evaluation is appropriate; provided, however, that each licensee shall be reviewed by the auditor at least once every 3 years; provided, further, that, in the event that the division has reason to believe that a school is no longer financially qualified to conduct business, the division may request in writing that the state auditor re-establish the eligibility of the licensee. The state auditor shall review the request of the division and determine if the circumstances warrant further review prior to the annual indemnification review under subsection (g) or the full re-establishment review under this subsection. If the state auditor determines that the circumstances do not warrant further review prior to the annual indemnification review under subsection (g) or the full re-establishment review under this subsection, the state auditor shall submit the reasons for such determination, in writing, to the division. License renewal shall be granted only after an investigation has been conducted and certification of the financial eligibility of the applicant for renewal has been made by the state auditor. The state auditor's finding of eligibility shall not be construed as the granting of a license by the division.
If the state auditor finds that an applicant or licensee is not financially responsible and qualified to operate a private occupational school, certification of financial eligibility shall be denied and the auditor shall state the reasons for denial in writing.
Notwithstanding section 12 of chapter 11 relative to maintenance of the records in the department of the state auditor, the financial information submitted to the state auditor shall be retained in the office of the state auditor and shall not be classified as public records.
The state auditor may adopt rules and regulations, issue guidelines and prescribe forms to carry out this subsection and subsection (g).
(e) Any person or entity desiring to operate a private occupational school within the commonwealth whose application has been granted initial approval by the state auditor under subsection (d) shall submit to the division, on a form supplied by the division, such information as the division may require, including but not limited to: (i) the training and experience of the instructors employed or to be employed by the school; (ii) the building facilities and equipment available or to be available for the instruction to be offered by the school; (iii) the form and content of the courses to be offered by the school; (iv) the particular field of instruction to be offered by the school; and (v) the form of any contract or agreement to be executed by a prospective student.
If, after investigation, the division finds that the applicant is qualified to operate a private occupational school, the division shall issue a license to the person or entity authorizing the operation of such school. If the division finds that the applicant is not qualified to operate a private occupational school, the division shall refuse to issue a license and shall state in writing the reasons for the refusal. Any such denial shall be considered an initial decision and not final until after the applicant has been provided at least 10 business days to supply, to the director, a reconsideration petition with additional information or documentation in further support of the application. The division shall adopt and publish regulations establishing timely reconsideration procedures. No application for licensure shall be approved unless all principals and employees of the school have provided the division with satisfactory proof of good moral character. The applicant shall be entitled to appeal subject to chapter 30A.
The division shall determine the license term, renewal cycle and renewal period for licenses issued by the division. Each licensee shall apply to the division for license renewal on or before the expiration date, as determined by the division, unless its license was revoked, suspended or canceled earlier by the division as a result of a disciplinary proceeding instituted under this section. Applications for initial licenses and renewal shall be in the manner approved by the division and accompanied by payment of a fee, determined by the secretary of administration and finance under section 3B of chapter 7. Licenses shall be non-transferrable. A change in ownership shall require a new application. Each licensee shall provide notice, in writing, to the division within 30 days of a change in location. Upon closure of a private occupational school, the school shall convey all student records to the division and pay a fee, determined by the secretary of administration and finance under said section 3B of said chapter 7, to cover any costs associated with the maintenance of those student records.
(f) No person shall be a sales representative of a private occupational school without a valid license issued by the division. Any person desiring to be a sales representative of a private occupational school shall submit to the division, on a form supplied by the division, information setting forth: (i) the applicant's name and address; (ii) the applicant's educational qualifications; (iii) the name and address of 3 business references; and (iv) the name and address of 3 personal references.
If, after investigation, the division finds that the applicant is qualified to be a sales representative of a private occupational school and has demonstrated satisfactory proof of good moral character the division shall issue a license to that person. The fee for the issuance of the license and the fee for a renewal shall be determined by the secretary of administration and finance under section 3B of chapter 7. If the division finds that the applicant is not qualified to be a sales representative of a private occupational school, it shall refuse to issue a license and state in writing the reasons for the refusal. The division shall determine the license term, renewal cycle and renewal period for sales representative licenses issued by the division. Licenses shall be non-transferrable.
(g) No license shall be issued under this section until the prospective licensee, or 2 or more prospective licensees who intend to secure a joint indemnification, furnish either a bond with surety or a form of indemnification acceptable to the division in the amount determined by the state auditor of not less than $5,000 for a school's license, and not less than $1,000 for a license for a sales representative of a private occupational school; provided, however, that the liability of a licensee shall be limited to indemnifying the claimant only for the claimant's actual damages. For the purpose of this paragraph, a joint indemnification shall be defined as an indemnification issued to cover all prospective licensees to be insured under the indemnification in an amount sufficient to cover the tuition refunds of the participating schools.
Additional security shall be required if the state auditor determines that the cash resources of the licensee may not be sufficient to make tuition refunds to students as required under section 13K of chapter 255; and provided further, that the amount of the indemnification in the case of the private occupational school shall not exceed the anticipated maximum unearned tuitions. The forms of indemnification, other than a surety bond, that shall be furnished to the division for licensure are (i) an irrevocable letter of credit, maintained for a period of 1 year, issued by a financial institution, as defined in section 1 of chapter 140E, in an amount, determined annually by the state auditor and approved by the division, payable to the commonwealth in which the commonwealth is designated as the beneficiary; or (ii) a term deposit account held in a financial institution, as defined in section 1 of chapter 140E, payable to the commonwealth, that shall be held in trust for the benefit of students entitled under section 13K of chapter 255 or subject to refund provisions and policies approved by the division. The term deposit account shall be maintained for a period of 1 year, the amount to be determined annually by the state auditor and acceptable to the division. All interest shall be paid annually to the appropriate school, unless the term deposit account is activated due to a school closing. If the licensee, for any reason, discontinues operation, and is not in default, all monies on deposit, including interest, shall be released to the appropriate school subject to the approval of the division.
Each indemnification shall be conditioned to provide that the obligor shall satisfy all valid claims, as determined by the division, to recover damages sustained by students resulting from a breach of contract; provided, however, that the aggregate liability of the person providing indemnification for all breaches of the conditions of the indemnification shall not, under any circumstances, exceed the sum of the indemnification. The indemnification shall not limit or impair any right of recovery otherwise available under law nor shall the amount of the indemnification be relevant in determining the amount of damages or other relief to which any plaintiff may be entitled. The surety on any bond may cancel the bond upon giving 60 days notice in writing to the division and thereafter shall be relieved of the liability for any breach of condition occurring after the effective date of the cancellation. The indemnification shall be procured only from companies or institutions legally authorized to conduct business in the commonwealth.
(h) The division shall conduct routine inspections and investigate all complaints filed relating to the operations of a private occupational school and any violation of this section or any rule or regulation adopted under this section. Complaints may be brought by any person or the division.
The division shall have the power to issue subpoenas requiring the attendance and testimony of witnesses and the production of any evidence, including books, records, correspondence or documents relating to any matter in question in the investigation. The division may administer oaths and affirmations, examine witnesses and receive evidence. The power to issue subpoenas may be exercised by any person or persons designated by the division for that purpose. Any witness summoned may petition the division to vacate or modify a subpoena issued.
After an investigation, the division may grant the petition in whole or in part upon a finding that the testimony or the evidence required does not relate with reasonable directness to any matter in question, that the subpoena for the attendance of a witness or the production of evidence is unreasonable or oppressive or has not been issued a reasonable period in advance of the time when the evidence is requested. Upon the failure of any person to comply with a subpoena issued by the division, any justice of the superior court, upon application by the division, may in the justice's discretion issue an order requiring the attendance of that person before the agency and the giving of testimony or production of evidence. Any person failing to obey the court's order may be punished by the court for contempt.
(i) For the purposes of this section, a private occupational school's fitness to conduct educational operations shall be questioned by the division upon a finding that the school or the school's principals, employees or other representatives have (i) committed fraud or misrepresentation in obtaining a license; (ii) engaged in criminal conduct which the division determines to be of such a nature as to render such a school or its principals as unfit to operate as a licensed educational facility, as evidenced by criminal proceedings which resulted in a conviction, guilty plea or plea of nolo contendere or an admission of sufficient facts; (iii) engaged in conduct which places into question the holder's competence to operate a private occupational school including, but not limited to, gross misconduct or misconduct in the practice of the education activities, dishonesty, fraud or deceit, operating beyond the authorized scope or operating the school with negligence; (iv) allowed instructors, staff or other associated personnel to function when such personnel are not able to perform the essential functions of their positions while impaired by alcohol, drugs or other cause; (v) aided or abetted an unqualified person to perform activities requiring a qualified instructor; (vi) held a license, certificate, registration or authority issued by another state or territory of the United States, the District of Columbia or foreign state or nation with authority to issue such a license, certificate, registration, that is or has been revoked, canceled or suspended, not renewed or otherwise acted against, or the holder has been disciplined, if the basis for the action would constitute a basis for disciplinary action in the commonwealth; (vii) violated any rule or regulation of the division; (viii) failed to cooperate with the division or its agents in the conduct of an inspection or investigation; or (ix) violated any ethical standard which the division determines to be of such a nature as to render such a school unfit, including but not limited to: (A) failing to establish and maintain minimum standards concerning quality of education, ethical and business practices, health and safety and fiscal responsibility; (B) failing to protect students against substandard, transient, unethical, deceptive or fraudulent practices; (C) granting of false educational credentials; (D) authorizing or otherwise failing to protect the public from misleading literature, advertising, solicitation or representation by the school or its agents; or (E) failing to preserve essential records.
(j) Except as otherwise provided by law, the division may, after a hearing and upon finding conduct that places into question the private occupational school's fitness to conduct educational operations or a determination of its status under subsection (c), undertake 1 or more of the following actions and state its reasons in writing for such action: (i) suspend, revoke, cancel or place on probation a licensee; (ii) reprimand or censure a licensee; (iii) assess a civil administrative penalty upon a licensee not to exceed $5,000 for each violation; (iv) require a licensee or staff of a licensee to complete additional education and training as a condition of retention, future consideration or reinstatement of its license; (v) require a licensee to practice under appropriate supervision for a period of time, as determined by the division, as a condition of retention or future consideration of reinstatement of its license; (vi) require restitution of student fees and tuition, where appropriate; or (vii) issue orders to licensees directing them to cease and desist from unethical or unprofessional conduct.
Nothing in this subsection shall be considered a limitation on the division's authority to impose reasonable and appropriate sanctions by consent agreement. Any person aggrieved by any disciplinary action taken by the division under this section may file a petition for judicial review with the superior court under section 14 of chapter 30A.
The division shall not be required to defer action upon any charge because of pending criminal charges against a person or school accused, nor shall the pendency of any charge before the division act as a continuance or ground for delay in a criminal action.
(k) Upon determination by the division that a private occupational school's continued operation poses an immediate and serious threat to the public health, safety or welfare, the division may suspend or refuse to renew the holder's license, pending a hearing on the merits of the allegation against the holder; provided that the division shall hold a hearing under chapter 30A on the necessity for the suspension or refusal to renew within 10 days of such suspension or refusal to renew. The division shall issue to the licensee a written order of summary suspension which specifies the findings of the division and the reasons for its summary suspension including notice of the date, time and place of the hearing. At the request of a licensee the division may reschedule this hearing to a date and time mutually agreeable to the division and licensee. Any rescheduling of the hearing granted at the licensee's request shall not operate to lift or stay the summary suspension order. If the hearing is not held within 10 days of the division's suspension or refusal to renew, the license against which action was taken shall be considered reinstated.
At the adjudicatory hearing on the necessity for summary suspension, the division shall receive evidence limited to determining whether the summary suspension order shall continue in effect pending the final disposition of the complaint. Following the hearing, any continuing suspension imposed by the division shall remain in effect until the conclusion of any formal proceeding on the merits of the allegations against the holder, including judicial review, or the continuing suspension is withdrawn by the division. The division shall adopt rules and regulations governing the emergency suspension procedure authorized by this subsection.
(l) Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, the division may, after a consent agreement between the parties or after an opportunity for an adjudicatory proceeding held under chapter 30A, assess and collect a civil administrative penalty not to exceed $10,000 for the first violation and a civil administrative penalty not to exceed $25,000 for a second or subsequent violation upon a person or entity who operates a private occupational school that is unlicensed or under suspension. The division may also order the individual or entity to cease and desist from continued practice without a license. The division may apply to the appropriate court for an order enjoining the unlicensed practice of a trade or profession, to enforce an order issued after a hearing conducted under this section or for such other relief as may be appropriate to enforce this section.
Any court review of an order of the division issued after a hearing shall be conducted under the standards of review in paragraphs (3) to (7), inclusive, of section 14 of chapter 30A. Nothing in this section shall affect, restrict, diminish or limit any other penalty or remedy provided by law; provided, however, that an assessment of a civil administrative penalty under this section shall bar a subsequent imposition of a criminal penalty under subsection (m) for the same violation.
(m) Any person or entity who operates or acts as a representative of a private occupational school that is unlicensed or under suspension, shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than 6 months or by a criminal fine of not more than $10,000, or both. An imposition of a criminal penalty under this section shall bar a subsequent assessment of a civil administrative penalty under subsection (l) for the same violation.
The division shall not defer action upon any charge until the conviction of the person accused, nor shall the pendency of any charge before the division act as a continuance or ground for delay in a criminal action.
(n) Any pupil of a private occupational school who is misled by an officer or representative of the school or by any advertisement or circular issued by the school, which representation is false, deceptive or misleading, may recover treble damages or $10,000, whichever is greater, plus court costs and reasonable attorney's fees.
(o) Any complaint, report, record or other information received or kept by the division in connection with an investigation shall become a public record following the final action by the division; provided, however, that the identity of the person filing a complaint shall be exempt from disclosure as a public record at all times. These provisions shall not be considered to prohibit the division from providing a licensee with such information for purposes of preparing a defense in a formal adjudicatory hearing nor shall it prevent the division from providing records in response to requests from other state or federal agencies, divisions or institutions as determined by the division.
(p) A private occupational school that obtains an accreditation from a national or regional accrediting agency that is recognized by the United States Department of Education shall notify the division in writing of its accreditation and of any changes to its accreditation. No private occupational school shall represent itself as being an accredited school unless it is accredited by a national or regional accrediting agency recognized by the United States Department of Education.
(q) Subject to appropriation, the division may retain all licensure fees, renewal fees, late fees, civil administrative penalties and other such revenue collected under this section.
(r) There shall be, within the division, an advisory council on private occupational schools which shall be comprised of 12 members, 1 of whom shall be the state auditor, or a designee; 1 of whom shall be the secretary of education, or a designee, 1 of whom shall be the secretary of labor and workforce development, or a designee; 1 of whom shall be the undersecretary of the office of consumer affairs and business regulation, or a designee; and 8 persons to be appointed by the director of the division, 1 of whom shall be the president of the Massachusetts association of private career schools, or a designee, 1 of whom shall be a president of a non-profit private occupational school and 6 of whom shall have knowledge and understanding of the fiscal, educational, workforce development and consumer protection issues relating to post-secondary education.
Members appointed by the director shall be appointed for terms of 3 years and serve at the pleasure of the director. Members whose appointments have expired may continue to serve until a replacement is appointed. Members appointed by the director shall be subject to chapter 268A and the director may remove any member so appointed for neglect of duty, misconduct, malfeasance or misfeasance in office, or for failure, as a representative or associate of an individual licensee, to follow the rules and regulations of the division. Members appointed by the director shall be considered public employees for the purposes of chapter 258 for all acts or omissions within the scope of their duties as council members. Members appointed by the director shall be immune from liability for actions taken in good faith in the discharge of their responsibilities. Members appointed by the director acting in good faith in the discharge of their duties shall be defended by the attorney general and shall be eligible for indemnification of all costs and damages arising from claims and suits against them.
The director shall appoint a chair of the advisory council who shall serve at the pleasure of the director. The advisory council may designate a secretary, treasurer or other position for its members as necessary for the conduct of its business. Members appointed by the director shall serve without compensation, but shall be reimbursed for actual and reasonable expenses incurred in the performance of their duties.
The advisory council shall be considered a governmental body and all meetings of the advisory council shall be announced and conducted under sections 18 to 25, inclusive, of chapter 30A, with the exception that remote participation is specifically authorized so long as 2 or more members are physically present at the public site. At the discretion of the chair, additional members, staff or interested parties may remotely participate by any live, 2?way medium such as audio or video teleconferencing.