Atkinson: Keep all deaf/blind schools open to students
The state Department of Public Instruction wants the campuses of all three residential schools for deaf and blind children to stay open, despite a legislative edict from this summer to close one of the schools.
In a press conference late Monday afternoon, NC Schools Superintendent June Atkinson said she was recommending that the Gov. Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh shut down its administrative functions, but stay open as a satellite campus for visually-impaired students.
“Should the General Assembly decide they don’t like my recommendation, then they can take another direction,” said Atkinson, a Democrat elected in 2008 to the statewide office.
Atkinson’s recommendation, which will next go to the N.C. State Board of Education on Dec. 1, dodged the GOP-led legislature’s request to choose a school to shut down, but did carve out some savings by combining the administration of the Raleigh’s campus for blind schools and the N.C. Eastern School for the Deaf in Wilson.
The third school, the N.C. School for the Deaf in Morganton, would continue operating as it has.
Under Atkinson’s plan, the Raleigh and Wilson schools would share administrative functions, and the unused portion of the Morehead school near downtown Raleigh would be leased to another “educational institution,” Atkinson said. She’s already had conversation with Tony Tata, the superintendent of the Wake County Public School System, she said.
Atkinson estimates the state will save $5.5 million, if it’s able to lease part of the Morehead campus.
Atkinson was tasked with recommending which one of the state’s three residential schools for blind or deaf students should be shut down by the N.C. General Assembly, which ordered cuts to shut down a school but left the weight of the decision on education officials.
The potential closure has sent waves of concern throughout the disabled community, where the schools are seen as lifelines for some deaf and blind children unable to reach their potential in traditional school settings.
The campuses have long been targets, with price tags that show the state spending more than $100,000 per student each year to educate them. Over the next year, the schools will cost the state $21 million to serve 220 deaf and blind students, many of whom have multiple disabilities.
That leaves the state paying more than $100,000 a year for a student – a cost that caught the attention of legislators looking to make cuts. Many students and families choose to integrate into their existing schools, instead of attending the boarding school setting of the residential schools.
Previous attempts to close or consolidate the schools were always thwarted because of outcries from the disabled communities. The residential schools, advocates successfully argued, provided essential services to children not fortunate to have eyes capable of reading a blackboard’s lessons or ears that can hear a teacher’s lecture.
The state heard from more than 1700 at the three public hearings held about the proposed closures, Atkinson said.
Gov. Bev Perdue released a statement after Atkinson’s press conference blasting the legislature for wanting to close one of the schools in the first place.
Below is Perdue’s statement:
The Republican budget is full of extreme, short-sighted and unnecessary cuts to education. It’s hard to understand in North Carolina why the General Assembly pitted deaf children against blind children in a fight to keep their school open. North Carolina must find ways to reduce spending, but our future demands that we also make investments in our people. Our constitution guarantees a quality education for all, and that includes deaf and blind children.