• 9 Investigates: Possible plan to move Altamonte Springs special-needs school

    By: Karla Ray


    ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. - In the middle of an elementary school campus, there have been dozens of physical disruptions, runaway incidents and students being involuntarily committed under Florida’s Baker Act.

    The Hopper Center in Seminole County is a special-needs school that sits in the middle of a mainstream elementary campus, and some parents want it gone.

    9 Investigates' Karla Ray uncovered plans to possibly move the special-needs children, amid concerns about campus safety.

    Seminole County Public Schools Superintendent Walt Griffin sent a letter to parents who have concerns about the Altamonte Springs campus.

    Lake Orienta Elementary School shares a space with the Hopper Center, which is a school for the county’s emotionally disabled elementary and middle school students.

    According to the letter, a decision about whether to move the Hopper Center could come in just a few weeks.

    Lake Orienta Elementary serves more than 700 students, and in one of its buildings, there are two dozen or so others enrolled in the Hopper Center.

    “I can see how that concerns parents, but again, all children have needs, and they need to go somewhere,” neighbor Edwin Roman said.

    Roman’s daughter attended Lake Orienta Elementary School, and his family lives across the street from the school.

    Roman and other neighbors who did not want to speak on camera, have seen students from the alternative, special-needs school trying to escape campus on multiple occasions.

    “They're running across the yard. You see two attendants running after them, and the school resource officer trying to corral them, trying to bring them back to school,” Roman said.

    The Hopper Center moved to its current location during the 2012-2013 school year after almost closing completely due to district budget cuts.

    9 Investigates scoured more than 900 police calls for service to the school since that time, and requested additional information on only the calls that produced an incident report.

    Of those, there were at least 13 incidents of Hopper students running away from campus, another 13 incidents of students being physically aggressive or disruptive with themselves or staff and at least seven incidents in which students were involuntarily committed for an evaluation under the state’s Baker Act.

    Altamonte Springs police indicated that some of those reports involved the same student.

    “The only option may be to go to another school, so why keep moving them around?  The kids need some place to go,” Roman said.

    Griffin did not want to speak on camera for this story, but the letter he sent to parents indicates that the decision about whether to move the Hopper Center will be made by April 4.

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