DeSantis drops Sagemont Prep campuses, other schools from voucher programs because of China ties

Two Weston preparatory school campuses and two schools in the Orlando area “that have direct ties to the Chinse Communist Party” have been suspended from Florida’s school choice scholarship program, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office said Friday night.

Sagemont Preparatory School in Weston consists of the Upper School and Lower School. The governor’s office said Parke House Academy and Park Maitland School, both in Winter Park, were also suspended from the program after a Florida Department of Education investigation.

“Today, Governor Ron DeSantis directed the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) to suspend the availability of school choice scholarships to four schools that have direct ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP),” the news release said. “Through a thorough investigation, FDOE has determined that Lower and Upper Sagemont Preparatory Schools in Weston, Parke House Academy in Winter Park, and Park Maitland School in Winter Park have direct ties to the CCP and their connections constitute an imminent threat to the health, safety, and welfare of these school’s students and the public.”

The governor’s office did not elaborate in the statement on the investigation.

Sagemont says on its website that it is part of Spring Education Group. Spring Education, the website says, “is controlled by Primavera Holdings Limited, an investment firm (together with its affiliates) principally based in Hong Kong with operations in China, Singapore, and the United States, that is itself owned by Chinese persons residing in Hong Kong.”

Park Maitland, which serves students in preschool through eighth grade, is also listed as one of Spring Education Group’s school brands, and the same statement from Spring Education Group’s website is in the bottom left corner of the school’s website.

Parke House Academy was formerly a separate private school in Winter Park that is now owned by Park Maitland and operates under the Park Maitland name, the Orlando Sentinel reported. 

It was not immediately clear Friday night how many students at Sagemont Preparatory School use the program.

Sagemont Preparatory School, founded in 1996, serves K-12th grade students at its two campuses. In its bio, the school says its students are from 26 different countries with a 6% population of students of Seminole descent. For the 2022-23 year, a total of 384 students were enrolled with 50 full-time faculty.

The school’s tuition rate for pre-school and pre-K is $18,144, according to an overview of their tuition and fees. Grades K-12 range in tuition from $20,083 to $25,706, which is billed over a 10-month period.

Sagemont Prepatory’s head of school, the Upper School principal, the Parent Teacher Organization and the school’s marketing and communications manager did not respond to requests for information Friday evening by phone and email. When reached by phone Friday evening, the Lower School principal said she was unable to take a reporter’s call at the time.

DeSantis’ office said in the statement that the Department of Education is “working with the non-profit scholarship funding organizations to assist impacted students in finding and enrolling in nearby eligible schools.” The governor signed HB 1 in March, expanding the voucher program by, in part, getting rid of past financial requirements.

The governor’s office statement notes “major educational reforms targeting the Chinese Communist Party” passed during DeSantis’ time in office, including his signing of SB 846 which, in part, bans state universities and colleges from accepting grants from a college or university “based in a foreign country of concern” and bans private schools “owned by, or in any way controlled by a foreign country of concern” from participating in the voucher program.

DeSantis has also blocked use of the social media app TikTok on government internet and devices and approved SB 264 in May, which, among other measures, restricts property ownership by “individuals and entities associated with foreign countries of concern,” including China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and Syria.

Orlando Sentinel staff writer Leslie Postal contributed to this report.

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