Aspire Charter Academy

Kerlin Fedee thought she had found the perfect fit for her daughter — a school dedicated to the needs of young children with behavioral problems.

"They said they would be able to help her and would love to have her," Fedee said.

But Fedee was disillusioned quickly. Aspire Charter Academy in Orlando, which opened this fall, kicked out 6-year-old Natalie Querette on the first day.

Natalie, a first grader, sometimes bites, kicks and spits, especially in a new situation. She has autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Her mother said the principal told her at the end of the first day that the school couldn't help Natalie because she screamed, bit and hit the teacher.

Aspire is run by Pam Schenkel, who spent 18 years as a behavioral support administrator in Orange County schools.

A week before the school year began, Schenkel said Aspire would fill an unmet need within the county.

The school, for kindergarten through grade 2, would serve many children who had spent months out of school for behavioral reasons, Schenkel said.

"If the school isn't going to educate them, they feel isolated," she said of the families.

District policy calls for schools, including charters, to call together a team of adults to discuss a disabled student's placement when problems arise. This is part of the federally required Individualized Education Program for students with disabilities.

But Schenkel said the charter has its own rules. "We're just following our handbook," she said.

Fedee has been invited to present her case to the school's Board of Directors at its meeting Wednesday night.

She filed a complaint with Orange County Public Schools, although there is little the district can require a charter school to do...

After being kicked out of Aspire, Natalie spent the rest of the first week out of school. Fedee enrolled her at Waterbridge, her neighborhood school, the following Monday.

After one day there, staff began evaluating whether to send her to another elementary, Endeavor, which takes students with mental disabilities from seven southwest Orange County elementary schools. Meanwhile, the school has required her mother to pick up Natalie by 11:00 a.m.

"Apparently Aspire Charter Academy does not practice what they preach," Fedee said...

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