BACK TO SCHOOL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Arizona Autism Charter expands to meet growing need for online classes

A free, online K-12 charter school for students with autism and other learning issues, which begins classes on Tuesday, Aug. 3, is expanding this school year to meet the growing request for online classes.  — Arizona Autism Charter Schools photos

Tempe and West Chandler parents raising children with autism and other special needs are getting good news as the start of schools nears.

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Arizona Autism Charter Schools, which opened in 2014, is expanding once again following state approval to become the state’s first and only tuition-free online autism charter.

Despite concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic, AZACS says its students excelled in virtual learning. As a result, say officials, some students and families requested virtual learning as their preferred method of education.

AZACS’ expansion provides an opportunity to educate and serve additional children and families, perhaps in smaller towns or rural areas where a comprehensive, fully integrated kindergarten through 12th grade education may not be available.

AZACS is the only school of its kind in the Southwest. Diana Diaz-Harrison, founder and executive director, says she created AZACS to help her son and other bright, capable special-needs students like him.

“We want Arizona families to know that Arizona Autism Charter School’s K-8 Online School and Online High School now exist as an option,” Diaz-Harrison said.

Many of its students have various appointments throughout the day, according to Dana Van Deinse, the school’s senior director of partnerships and online learning.

“So if their family prefers, they can now learn from home while having the support of highly-qualified teachers, learning-success coaches and case managers with a low student-to-teacher ratio,” said Van Deinse, formerly executive director of strategic partnerships for Arizona State University’s Prep Digital.

Students will participate in virtual morning meetings, online curriculum and online sessions with their teachers, speech therapists and tutors. There will be opportunities for social events, field trips and STEM activities on campus or in the community, according to Van Deinse.

Families may now enroll now for the 2021-22 school year. School starts Tuesday, Aug. 3.

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