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

SANFORD, Fla. — The Florida Department of Education and nonprofit organization Step Up for Students have announced that they will no longer provide funding for Orlando's Angels Center for Autism after allegations of Medicaid fraud.

Parents of children enrolled at the school left without a classroom after two officials were arrested and charged with $4.5 million in Medicaid fraud.

Maria Navarro, the owner of Angels Center for Autism, and office manager Judith Bench are accused of making 21,000 fraudulent Medicaid claims.

The pair billed Medicaid for eight hours of one-on-one therapy for students, but only had enough staffing to provide two hours, investigators said.

Students were also only in school for six hours a day, an arrest affidavit said.

The loss of funding could mean the school's doors will never open again, which is a distressing thought for parents who relied on its services for their children.

"My son is very routine," parent Myrna Gamarra said. "To have that disruptiveness is extremely stressful."

Gamarra's 9-year-old son, Joshua, traveled from St. Cloud every day to attend Angels Center for Autism.

Their family was given no notice of the school's closing and it left them scrambling, Jerold Gamarra said.

He's been working two jobs and now that there is no place for Joshua to go, Myrna Gamarra said she can't work at all.

"Due to this situation, I have to stay at home," she said.

The Orange and Osceola school districts said they will not turn any child away, but the Gamarras said public school is not the right fit for their son, who suffers from a severe form of autism.

"When thy have meltdowns, (public schools) tend to send them home," Jerold Gamarra said. "That would happen at least twice a week."