GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - A specialty school catering to students with autism and operated by the University of Southern Mississippi is shutting its doors due to lack of funding, leaving parents searching for answers.
Soaring Elementary School in Gulfport is part of USM’s Autism Project. Natalie McFarland’s nine-year old child has attended the school for the last four years.
“This is a place where a child can come that’s a judgment free zone. They can be themselves, and the teachers know what they’re doing. They know autism,” McFarland said.
Students from across the Coast, from as far away as Pascagoula, travel to the school daily for specialized instruction designed for students with autism. Tranisha Lane’s daughter started going to the school a few months ago, and she’s already seeing the results.
“They have been able to reach my child in a way that I don’t think any therapy offered through the public school system was able to do,” Lane said.
Earlier this week, the parents learned that soon the school will be closing.
“We’ve been a grant-based school for 10 years, and the grant ran out at the end of this year,” said Kyle Turner, Autism Project instructor. “We submitted for it to be renewed, and we found out Friday it would not be renewed for next school year.”
The news didn’t come easy for parents who said options for autistic children are limited on the Coast.
“I cried. I cried hard, and I don’t know what to do going forward without this school,” Lane said.
The parents aren’t the only ones looking for other options. Turner is losing a job that has been his passion.
“To know that I’m no longer even able to do what I love doing here at the Autism Project is tough. It’s not even an option anymore,” Turner said.
USM Autism Project Director Michael Mong released the following statement to WLOX:
While Soaring Elementary School is set to close next month, Lane is hopeful something can be done to save it.
“We really need this school. There is a need for this school, and this is helping several children reach their full potential,” Lane said.
The Autism Project also served as a place for special education teachers from around the state to observe teaching techniques designed for autistic children.