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Weston prep schools, two others, dropped from state scholarships due to alleged ties to China

Sagemont school at center of flap over China
Sagemont school at center of flap over China 02:39

FORT LAUDERDALE - The DeSantis administration has dropped two private Weston preparatory schools, and two private prep schools in the Orlando area, from the state's school choice scholarship program because they reportedly have ties to China.

"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). 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 Department of Education said in a statement on Friday.

Florida education dept. suspends scholarship money for four schools, say they have ties to China 00:54

DeSantis has recently enacted several educational reforms targeting the Chinese Communist Party. 

They include banning TikTok on school servers and blocking it on devices that access school WiFi. Also, state colleges and universities are also not allowed to accept any grant from, or participate in any agreement or partnership with any college or university based in China.

The Sagemont school released a written statement, saying: "They were not contacted in advance and are working with families to be sure their students can remain enrolled. Our schools are locally run, abide by local, state and federal laws and do not have any ties to any political party or government either foreign or domestic."

The other schools suspended, Park Maitland and Parke House Academy, which was formerly a separate private school but is now owned by Park Maitland, also said they were given no notice, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

What the schools have in common is that they are part of the Spring Education Group.

According to Sagemont Prep's website, "Spring Education Group 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."

NSU international law professor Bob Jarvis said foreign control does not necessarily mean there is political involvement. 

"The fact they are controlled by someone in Hong Kong doesn't mean they are being run by the communist party," he said. 

Jarvis was referring to Fred Hu, the Chinese-born founder of Primavera Capital Group, which has a controlling interest in the Sagemont schools.

Hu has written editorials in support of China but Jarvis says the state hasn't offered any evidence of Chinese influence.

"You should be able to show classes, teachers programs," he said. "He doesn't have any of that (and) it will never hold up in court."

Jarvis believes the governor, who is running for president is using the Chinese matter to stoke political support.

The Sagemont schools aren't saying how many children are affected and whether they will pursue legal action.

Sagemont Preparatory's two schools had 66 scholarship students in the 2022-23 year, according to the SunSentinel. Tuition runs from $20,000 to $25,000 a year.

Some parents may no longer be able to afford to send their children to the school without the scholarship assistance.

In its statement, the state's education department said it is working with the "non-profit scholarship funding organizations to assist impacted students in finding and enrolling in nearby eligible schools." 

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