Orlando special needs school reopens under new management

By: Jason Kelly , Roy Ramos

Updated:

ORLANDO, Fla. - A special needs school that was at the center of a Medicaid fraud investigation reopened under new management Wednesday morning.

The Lodestone Academy, which has another campus near downtown Orlando, took over the shuttered Angels Center for Autism, which was closed after Maria Navarro, its owner, and Judith Benech, an administrator, were accused of filing $4.6 million in fraudulent Medicaid claims.

The women are accused of using the money to buy three homes and more than a dozen cars.

Read: Special needs school at center of $4.6M Medicaid fraud investigation to reopen

Investigators said the pair billed Medicaid for eight-hour one-on-one therapy sessions with students, but officials said they only had enough staffing to provide two-hour sessions.

The school serves 15 students, and officials are reviewing applications for five additional students.

Many students and parents said they were glad to be back.

"It has been very hard for the past month trying to home school him and trying to keep him up to where he needs to be," said parent Kimberly Gay. "Change is very difficult for them."

Not much has changed inside the classrooms, something Pritchard said was intentionally done so students could easily adjust to returning to school. But much of the staff has changed.

Read: School officials face judge over accusations of Medicaid fraud

Of the seven employees who work at the school, only two were employed by the previous school.

Pritchard said he sought to hire instructors and therapists who specialized in applied behavior analysis.

“We are going to start with assessing where the students are and use that to individualize their curriculum,” he said. “(We’ll) get rolling with getting their education back on track.”

Read: State yanks funding for special needs school embroiled in Medicaid fraud allegations

Pritchard said he welcomes parents to stop by the school to see all that has changed.

"It made me happy," parent Amy Dorsey said. "(I was) excited that (my son) was excited. This is all he talked about this morning, and it just lightened me up."

The school reopened at 9 a.m.

Read: Special needs school officials accused of $4.6M in Medicaid fraud freed from jail

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