Arizona Autism Charter Schools to Open New Campus

            The 2020-21 school year has presented many challenges for education, notably for the special needs community. Diana Diaz, a school leader and mother of an autistic son, has stepped up to serve children on the autism spectrum amid the impacts of COVID-19.

            The founder of the Arizona Autism Charter Schools (AZACS), she knew that many children, like her son Sammy, need round-the-clock facilitation to stay engaged in learning. “Our teachers adapted lessons via Zoom and Google Classroom and created paper/pencil and manipulative packets that were delivered to students,” she said. “Our delivery team traveled several hundred miles each week to deliver schoolwork to students’ doorsteps.”

            While many students are responsive to learning via Zoom, after a few months, they need somewhere to go, Diaz said. Fortunately, AZACS — Arizona’s first tuition-free, public charter school for children on the autism spectrum — will open a new Phoenix campus in September, which will include unique features like a Life Skills apartment and other classrooms that help build independent living skills.

            Despite COVID-19, AZACS is seeing significant enrollment increases. The anticipated enrollment for the 20-21 school year was 275, but they expect enrollment to reach 375. There is a waitlist in kindergarten and first grade. “Because we are a tuition-free public school, we are even seeing siblings of students enroll, as well as typical kids, or kids with special needs other than autism,” Diaz said.

             AZACS will begin virtual learning for its students on Aug. 18 and plans to start on-site programming on Sept. 8. At that time, students can either continue virtual learning or begin a hybrid model, attending school 2.5 days per week and virtual learning at home the other 2.5 days. AZACS will offer a five-day-per-week on-site option as soon as Maricopa County’s data metrics indicate it’s safe to do so. “We are very fortunate to have a physician on our board of directors advising us and evaluating the COVID-19 metrics in our community as we navigate reopening timelines,” Diaz said.

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