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Fort Pierce mother struggles to find online learning option for son with autism

Child's McKay Scholarship won't cover virtual learning
Zomara Grant, Fort Pierce mother works to have child have virtual education
Posted at 3:35 PM, Sep 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-02 18:29:35-04

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — A Fort Pierce mother said she is still looking for a virtual school option for her high-risk son weeks into the school year.

Zomara Grant said her 15-year-old son with autism and asthma is too afraid to go to school in person.

"He's just sitting home, doing nothing," Grant said.

For several years, Grant said her son has been attending the Heritage Christian Academy in Port St. Lucie.

"I love the environment. I love the teachers," Grant said.

Last year, because of COVID safety concerns, the school was able to accommodate distance learning for high-risk students.

Heritage Christian Academy
Heritage Christian Academy leaders said they were unable to offer an online learning format this year.

However, this year, Heritage school leaders said they are following the lead of public schools, which are now required by the state to teach in person.

"What about the sick kids? What about the kids who can’t go to school?" Grant asked.

The only way Grant said she has been able to afford the Heritage Christian Academy is through the McKay Scholarship.

It's offered through the state and helps cover tuition costs for students with special needs to attend private schools that they feel better meet their unique needs.

Heritage school staff was notified by a representative with the Office of Parental Choice for the Florida Department of Education that students attending on scholarship would have to attend in person.

An email stated:

Q: Can a scholarship student with an underlying medical condition submit a medical waiver to continue remote learning for a temporary period of time?

A: No, at this time all scholarship students must attend your school in-person in order to receive scholarship payment.

Note: Parents can consider placing the student's scholarship on hold by having the student withdrawn from your private school’s scholarship account and registering the student for Home Education OR make arrangements to cover out-of-pocket expenses if your school offers a virtual option.

As a result, Grant said she cannot afford to send her son to the school.

She said she is trying to get him into Florida Virtual School, but says she is still waiting to get approved.

The website for Florida Virtual School notes they are experiencing a high volume of applications.

"He's already two weeks behind," Grant said.

The St. Lucie County School District ESE program is working to see if there is anything they can do to help the family.

"I don't think that's right for a child to be basically left behind," Grant said.