State could close school for blind in Raleigh

Raleigh city leaders are expected to press the case to keep open the state’s only school for the blind during a public hearing in downtown Wednesday evening.

State budget cuts mandate that next July, one of three schools for the visually and hearing impaired will close – either the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf in Wilson or the North Carolina School for the Deaf in Morganton.

Services for the 220 students who attend the residential schools will be consolidated at the remaining two schools.

Gary Farmer, a former dean of students at the Wilson school, sits on the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction committee that will decide which school to close by Jan. 15.

“This process makes me sick,” Farmer said at a public hearing last week. “This is a tough decision.”

Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker plans to give reasons to keep the Morehead School for the Blind open at Wednesday’s hearing. In a statement, he said he’ll stress the school’s closed-off campus, access to state services for the blind and deaf, central location in the state and access to transportation systems.

Talk of closing or merging the schools to save money has arisen during budget shortfalls as far back as 2001, but so far, spirited support from students and families has helped keep them open. Last year, the schools cut costs by $1 million, including cutting pay, having students return later from weekends at home and dropping charter bus services.

Student at whichever school is closed could attend one of the two remaining schools or return to their home county’s public school system.

Supporters for all the schools have argued that they are located where the students are most comfortable. Many of the students have other special needs and disabilities and attend the schools for the deaf and blind because they had a difficult time succeeding in their local school district.

Closing and consolidating of the schools could increase class sizes and travel time for dozens of students.

Wednesday’s public hearing will take place 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the Avery C. Upchurch Government Complex, 222 W. Hargett St. in Raleigh.

Thirty people will be allowed to speak for up to three minutes each. People can sign up to speak starting at 4:45 p.m. in the Upchurch building.

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