Last year, I found the perfect school setting for my son. But, because of an outdated and unnecessary barrier in Florida, my family will lose this option unless House Bill 7069, which should be on its way to the governor’s desk this month, is signed into law.
My son Branden has Type 1 Diabetes. We currently homeschool using the FLVS Flex Program — the Florida Virtual School part-time program — to access online courses tailored to Branden’s needs. He is thriving physically and academically, but because he is about to enter fourth grade, he will lose eligibility for FLVS Flex.
Branden began kindergarten at our local public school. Within the first few weeks, we realized this was not the right setting for him. The school was unable to offer the support we needed to manage his diabetes. I knew we had to quickly find an alternative.
The only immediate solution was homeschooling — a decision that was not easy to make.
With Branden as my top priority, I researched my options, gave up my 24-year career as an investigator, enrolled Branden in the FLVS Flex program, and began homeschooling. I did this knowing it was the best choice to balance my son’s education and medical needs.
FLVS Flex does more than simply equip me to educate Branden; it gives me the precious time necessary to treat and tend to my son’s illness.
We test Branden’s diabetes six to 10 times per day, including nights. He visits his endocrinologist and a diabetic nurse every couple of months. He receives bloodwork twice a year, and when he is sick with unpredictable blood sugars and on the verge of ketoacidosis, ER visits or hospitalization are sometimes necessary.
My life is very busy and complex, and there are days when I find little rest. However, without the FLVS Flex program, educating and caring for my son would be twice as hard. Over the years, we have tried traditional school, the FLVS Full Time program, and FLVS Flex. Of these choices, FLVS Flex allows me the time and resources to ensure my son is healthy and learning.
Branden is now finishing up third grade and is a straight-A student. Branden is comfortable, confident, intelligent, capable, and independent. More important, he is healthy because I can consistently monitor his blood sugars. By keeping his blood sugars in check, we can prevent future complications caused by diabetes and give Branden the opportunity for a long, happy, and successful life.
But as we prepare for fourth grade, the future is uncertain.
Last school year, more than 900 FLVS students were unable to continue their education because of current state rules concerning prior-year enrollment. I’m afraid my son might be among those numbers this year. As Branden enters fourth grade, he is no longer eligible for FLVS Flex because he has not spent a year enrolled as a full-time public school student.
However, there is hope.
This spring, Representative Jennifer Sullivan and Senators Dennis Baxley and Bill Galvano urged Florida lawmakers to pass legislation that removes the outdated language that restricts access to Florida’s outstanding online courses. All we need now is for Governor Rick Scott to sign House Bill 7069 into law.
This legislation will impact many families, including mine. I hope that Governor Scott will consider our story and give all Florida students access to the benefits of virtual instruction.
Sherrie Johnson-Ojeda and her son Branden stand with Representative Jennifer Sullivan (left), who sponsored legislation to expand virtual education in Florida.
Sherrie Johnson-Ojeda and her son Branden live in Lake County, Florida.