RALEIGH - Hundreds of people made impassioned pleas Wednesday night to save North Carolina's residential schools serving students with visual or hearing disabilities.
A new law passed this year requires the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to close one of the three schools in the state; either the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, the North Carolina School for the Deaf in Morganton or the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf in Wilson.
“The state of North Carolina should be ashamed of itself for putting us in this position,” said James Benton, a 1978 graduate of the Governor Morehead School. “This is an abominable act!”
“I challenge you to tell the legislators no,” Morganton resident Barbara Palmento told NCDPI administrators. “Keep all three schools!”
With the third and final public hearing taking place in Raleigh, many in the crowd praised the Governor Morehead School and the impact it has had on their lives.
“I did not have the resources in public school that I needed,” said student Cassidy Hooper.
“They know how to teach me,” said Student Body President Eric Galindo. “They have experienced teachers that have dealt with these accommodations and know the technology that is necessary to be successful as well.”
“In 2007, in April, I came to the Governor Morehead School and I was successful,” bragged student Wenisha Richardson. “My Fs [in public school] turned into Bs.”
Due to budget cuts, state lawmakers are forcing DPI to close one of the three schools by next summer.
Lawmakers set five criteria to decide which school to shut down:
• Minimizing the impact on students
• Requiring the least amount of money to modify the other schools to accommodate students from the closed school
• Making the state the most money from selling the closed facility
• Minimizing required travel for impacted students
• Weighing the historical and cultural significance of the schools
Many people in the audience were appalled at some of the criteria to determine which school gets shut down.
“A maximization of savings brought about by closing a campus and possibly selling off assets,” explained Tom Winton, Section Chief of DPI's Exceptional Children’s Division.
“How dare these government bean counters consider the resale value of buildings over the educational needs of its youngest citizens,” said Mike Chapman, a sign language interpreter.
DPI is also conducting an online survey through Sept. 30 to get feedback on which of the three schools to close.
The agency must make its recommendation of which school to shut down by Jan. 15. If lawmakers approve it, the selected school will close July 1.