Panhandle Parents With Autistic Kids Face Choice

COEUR D’ALENE — The Panhandle Autism Society, a non-profit group, says it’s at risk of losing an online based education program its children have been using for years.

The autism society considers itself a non-profit place for autistic kids to develop skills however the  online virtual academy says the society is a private school and having kids enrolled in both violates its policy. Now parents have to make a choice.

Mason Quade is a Bionicle expert and also plays with Legos in between study time. Mason, who is autistic, spends his days at the Panhandle Autism Society learning life skills as well as math, reading and vocabulary.

Dotty Quade, Mason’s mother, is the society’s executive director and says it creates an environment to meet the needs of autistic children. Mason and a handful of other kids also use their time at the society to get an education online through the Idaho Virtual Academy, a public charter school based in southern Idaho.

The academy recently sent parents with students enrolled in the program a letter.

“They are saying we no longer fit inside their model of their charter … they are claiming [the] autism society is a private school,” Dotty Quade said.

Quade says it’s a non-profit, not a school, but the Idaho Virtual Academy says parents have to make a choice by Friday to keep their child at the Panhandle Autism Society or stay enrolled with the Idaho Virtual Academy and take the classes at home or a nearby community center.

“It’s asking does your child want to eat or drink basically,” Dotty Quade said.

Danielle Baumgarten-Pickett has already made the choice to keep her son Jesse at the Panhandle Autism Academy because in public school he wasn’t making the grade and he has nowhere else to go. In public school he was getting Ds and Fs but now at the Panhandle Autism Society he’s getting As and Bs.

The Idaho Virtual Academy says it understands parents have a tough choice but its policy says students cannot be enrolled in two schools at the same time. They add they never  had an agreement with the Panhandle Autism Society to use its curriculum or computers and doing so could jeopardize its own charter.