‘Stay or transfer’: Park Maitland parents face tough choice after state pulls vouchers

MAITLAND, Fla. — Two Central Florida private schools have less than two weeks to fight the state’s decision to pull school choice scholarship funds.


Governor Ron DeSantis announced Friday the Florida Department of Education would suspend school choice scholarships to four schools with ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

That includes Park Maitland School, which has campuses in Maitland and Winter Park.

In a letter sent by the FDOE to parents Friday, the department gave parents three options: transfer to a different private school, transfer to a public school, or pay tuition out of pocket without scholarship funds.

“We have this stress as parents and we’re trying to protect our kids from this stress, but it’s there,” said Joslyn Bear, a Park Maitland School parent whose children receive school choice scholarships.

Read: Park Maitland School increases campus security following Communist Party connection allegations

A representative with the Department of Education told Channel 9 that Park Maitland has 15 days to appeal the suspension, though the school has not confirmed whether it will pursue this avenue.

A Department of Education Spokesperson said Monday it investigated all four suspended schools and verified their connection with the Chinese Communist Party.

While the spokesperson didn’t answer our questions about the investigation or provide the investigative report on Monday, they did point to a statement on the schools’ website confirming the schools’ affiliation with Spring Education Group and Primavera Holdings:

“Spring Education Group is controlled by Primavera Holdings Limited, an investment firm (together with its affiliates) principally based in Hong Kong with operations in China, Singapore, and the United States, that is itself owned by Chinese persons residing in Hong Kong,” reads the statement on the schools’ website.

Read: Schools respond after FDOE suspends scholarships over accusations of “Chinese Communist Party” ties

But parents who picked up their children from Park Maitland on Monday told us they weren’t concerned about foreign influence.

“Governor DeSantis, just worry about your kids. Park Maitland looks after our kids. Leave them alone,” said one Park Maitland father.

It was a sentiment echoed by Joslyn Bear, who attended the school years ago and now sends her children to the Park Maitland School.

“It’s an outstanding school. The heart of this school is teaching kids to be their personal best,” said Bear, who touted the school’s leadership.

“There’s absolutely zero concern in our mind that there’s any ties to Chinese ideology or the Chinese government. Zero,” said Bear.

Read: Report: Over 100K Florida students receive private school vouchers this year

On Monday, Park Maitland representatives didn’t respond to Channel 9′s inquiries but had provided earlier statements about the situation where they firmly denied any affiliation with the CCP.

“We are regularly acknowledged as one of the best private schools in our area and have a track record of delivering outstanding educational outcomes, which is why parents choose us. Our schools are locally run, abide by local, state and federal laws, and do not have ties to any government or political party, either foreign or domestic,” said one Park Maitland representative.

In earlier correspondence, the school said they would also boost security on Monday, given the funding issue and “a range of concerns” raised as a result. The school said these measures were proactive, and there were no safety threats.

The Park Maitland school also sent a letter to families, in which school leadership said,

“We want to reiterate our commitment to you that we will work with all families to ensure their child(ren) can remain at Park Maitland. You are valued members of our community, and we want you here.”

Read: Florida allows taxpayer-funded ‘school choice’ vouchers to pay for kayaks, Disney tickets

Meanwhile, Step Up For Students, a non-profit that partners with the state to process vouchers, said that 283 Park Maitland students receive School Choice Scholarships and would be impacted by the suspension. An additional 36 students at Park House Academy also receive scholarships.

According to the school’s website, the average scholarship award is $7,000, but tuition at Park Maitland ranges from $15,000 to $20,000.

With those scholarships pulled, several parents say they feel financial pressure.

“Parents are really frustrated, they’re angry. They’re devastated by the idea of having to move their kid to a different school,” said State Representative Anna Eskamani.

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Eskamani’s office has since heard from several parents about the issue.

“Parents overwhelmingly have told us they don’t want to leave. So we’re going to do what we can to help students stay at the school that they have chosen, which I thought was the entire premise of the school choice policy, the legislature passed this year,” said Eskamani.

According to Step Up for Students, they are deploying extra resources to help parents navigate the options the Department of Education laid out.

A spokesperson for Step Up for Students said Monday, “Step Up has unenrolled students on our end to facilitate easier transfers for families. We’ve also equipped our call center to be able to answer parent questions.”

The organization also says regional managers are providing direct support to schools that may get an influx of students transferring.

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