School helping autistic children on Oahu to close

Published On: Jul 10 2012 10:52:34 AM HST

There are financial problems for two Oahu schools providing services for Hawaii's autistic children.

The schools said the state is to blame.  They said the Department of Education has stopped paying many of its bills.

The Loveland Academy in Honolulu is closing its doors at the end of this month.  The Pacific Autism Center is just holding on.

The Loveland Academy in Makiki is where as many as 30 students, mostly those diagnosed with autism, attend a day treatment center that school officials say is the only one to offer wraparound mental health care.

"Loveland only exists because the Department of Education and the Department of Health asked Dr. (Patricia J.) Dukes to create this place," said Carl Varady, attorney for Loveland Academy."

It was created with the arrival of the Felix Consent Decree.  But, Loveland Academy is now slated to close its doors on July 27.  The 62 full-time employees are down to 18.

Loveland officials and their lawyers said they are being forced to close because the state stopped paying for the education of some of these students despite orders by the federal court to do so.

"It's stunning that the state would thumb its nose at the federal courts, federal law and ignore these rules," said Varady.

Lawyers for the Loveland students said the school is owed at least $700,000.

It's a similar experience with the Pacific Autism Center, who said the DOE owes them about $300,000.

"We had to sit down and run the numbers and really think through what we are going to do," said Laura Cook of the Pacific Autism Center.  "We came very close to making a decision to close because we couldn't sustain not knowing when we are going to get paid or if we are going to get paid."

The Pacific Autism Center recently moved from a 4,800 square-foot site to an 1,800 square-foot site.  They are down from 17 children to seven.  The center has some private-pay students and others paid for by military TRICARE insurance.

"We need the DOE to be responsible and we need them to fulfill the requirements and stop playing all these games," said Cook.

In a statement released Monday, DOE Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe said, "Our highest priority is to ensure Hawaii's students receive a high-quality education.  The Hawaii State Department of Education has paid and continues to make payments for services provided by Loveland Academy in cases where there is no legal dispute regarding the DOE's obligation to pay.  We must be diligent in ensuring payments to Loveland, as well as other providers, are made appropriately."

Tuesday night on KITV4 News at 6, we'll hear from the families affected by Loveland's closure.


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