Troubleshooter

Parents upset Asperger Connection School is closing

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

There are new developments in an ABC11 I-Team investigation about a special needs school that was in financial trouble.

We first exposed in February how the Asperger Connection School wasn't paying its teachers.

Parents of students at the school received the news that the school was going to become a virtual school beginning Monday. It was devastating news to Cindy Erickson and her 11-year-old son, Luke.

"I wasn't happy with the news," said Luke. "I couldn't imagine not going to school."

They just learned the school Luke thrived at is done. Its executive director closed the schools' doors with no notice.  It's a school which the Ericksons paid $6,000 tuition for.

"We sacrificed everything," said Erickson. "Our house payment got behind."

The Asperger Connection School, which is a private school in Wayne County, opened its doors in August 2011.  All the students have Asperger Syndrome. It's a form of autism with many different symptoms, but the common thread is a lack of social skills. Cindy says the school worked for her son.

"Within three weeks of going there, there was a smile on his face instead of me dragging him to school each day," said Erickson.

But as the I-Team exposed earlier this year, there were problems. Teachers were only getting paid one week out of every month.

"You never know when you're going to get a week's pay," said former teacher Jill Baker. "And when that week's pay comes it's like 'Hallelujah. I got a week's pay!' and that just kinda just gets me through just a little bit longer."

We confronted the schools' executive director, Nancy Black.

"We were having some financial difficulties and the staff was told you have the option to either stay with the school and work through these financial difficulties or you have the option to leave at any point in time," Black told ABC11.

The majority of the staff did quit, which caused concerns for some parent who said the turnover took a toll of their kids.

"They need some constant normalcy in their life," said parent Hunter Smith. "I know he doesn't do well with change at all. So, if he's constantly having to deal with a new teacher, a new T.A., they got a new schedule, they're doing things differently -- that's going to throw him off completely."

Black balked at those concerns and in February told me she would pay everyone back, eventually.

"I have a business plan in place and I'm not at liberty to discuss that with you," said Black.

Now, months later, parents said Black told them there would be no refunds. She has no money and that her new business plan is to close the school and re-open online only as a virtual school she's calling the Daniel Kelly Academy. It's an option Erickson said is not for her son who needs social interaction.

"My son was so happy at that place along with the other children," said Erickson. "It's been really hard to think of our kids taken apart from one another and not being together and the social aspect of it. They are just safe and happy, and this is devastating. Just the commotion of it all is devastating."

There is still hope for these kids. Two teachers who taught at the Asperger Connection School and several more parents tell me they are not giving up.  

They claim they just submitted their application today to the North Carolina Division of Non-Public Education for a new school to be open by Monday which they hope will service the students who attended the Asperger Connection School.

They add they got permission to operate in the same building the Asperger Connection School was located.

I did reach out to the Executive Director Nancy Black; she did not get back to me.

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wayne county, abc11 troubleshooter, troubleshooter, diane wilson
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