NC legislature cuts disabled schools’ budget
A slow-paced, robotic voice resonates from a room in Cobb Residence Hall.
The voice is a special feature on UNC sophomore Kevin Currin’s phone which allows him to listen to text messages, instead of seeing them.
Currin is one of the fewer than 10 visually impaired students registered with the disability services office at UNC, said Jim Kessler, director of disability services at the University. Five students are registered as hard of hearing, he said.
This isn’t the first time Currin has been one of only a few visually impaired students. In the ninth grade, Currin switched from the Governor Morehead School for the Blind to a regular public school.
By January, students who attend one of North Carolina’s three residential schools for the visually impaired and hard of hearing might have to change schools.
By that date, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction will announce the closure of either the Governor Morehead School for the Blind, the Eastern N.C. School for the Deaf or the N.C. School for the Deaf.
The recently passed state appropriations bill mandates the state close one of those three schools because they no longer meet the needs of visually impaired and hard of hearing populations in an effective manner.
The impact of this impending closure is uncertain.
An estimated 220 students attend all three schools. These students represent less than five percent of visually impaired or hard of hearing students in North Carolina, said Tom Winton, a section chief in the department’s exceptional children division.
“It’s important to recognize that these schools are a small part of the educational services available,” he said.
Winton said most visually impaired and hard of hearing students attend regular public schools, where they receive services ranging from language development and literacy to independent living skills.
At UNC, only one of the estimated 13 visually impaired or hard of hearing students on campus graduated from one of the three residential schools.
Even though the schools serve a small market, Currin said he doesn’t support closing one of them.
“I think it would be terrible for the kids who go there,” he said. “I know it’s a small number of people — but still.”
Winton agreed the closing will have an impact.
“When one of those campuses shuts down of course it will greatly affect those students,” he said.
Audrey Garvin, director of the N.C. School for the Deaf, said her school offers unique services unavailable at regular public schools.
“It’s a larger community than for one or two students in a public school who may or may not have any deaf role models in their communities or families,” she said.
Though the close of one of the schools is certain, administrators are unsure which school will be closed. The one that is closed will be consolidated, according to the appropriations bill.
The state will close the school which least impacts services for students and minimizes costs of consolidation and required travel for students who transfer schools, among other criteria, according to the bill.
Winton said other services will exist for students.
Cape Fear High School, which was named one of the best high schools in America by U.S. News & World Report, is preparing for a possible influx of students from the school that closes, said Principal Lee Spruill.
“We already have a lot of things in place,” she said.
But Currin — who graduated from a non-specialized school — still sees value in his time at Governor Morehead.
“If I didn’t go to the school for the first eight years, I wouldn’t have had the skills necessary to go to public school,” he said.
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