Wilson, N.C. — Staff, parents and students of the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf on Friday protested a plan to merge the school onto a Raleigh campus.
State lawmakers have proposed slashing the Department of Health and Human Services budget by $1.4 billion next year to help erase a projected $4.5 billion shortfall. One suggested cut by DHHS officials would consolidate state schools for blind and deaf students, meaning the Wilson school and the North Carolina School for the Deaf in Morganton would close and students would be shifted to the Gov. Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh.
DHHS Secretary Lanier Cansler said the state spends $30 million a year to operate the three schools, which serve about 250 students combined.
“If we closed two and kept one, my staff have indicated we could save ultimately about $17 million a year,” Cansler said.
“It’s not that they would no longer have a school to go to. It just may be in a different location, should this option be chosen by the legislature,” he said. “Most of the options are not things that we want to do, but (we’re) trying to figure out how to deal with the major cuts with the least amount of impact.”
Otis Hargrove, who had two daughters attend the Wilson school, said what’s best for the state budget isn’t necessarily what’s best for the children.
“The people up there making the decisions, they don’t have a clue what it takes to educate a hearing-impaired child,” Hargrove said.
Mary Miller, whose foster son, Billy, is among about 100 students on the Wilson campus, said the proposal sets the students up to fail.
“It’s not like you can just take them and put them in a public school and expect them to learn, because they can’t,” Miller said.
Her husband, James Miller, agreed that many of the students wouldn’t want to move to a new campus and would opt for public school. Those that made the move likely would be farther from home and would have to adapt to a new program, he said.
“I think it’s really sad when the state comes and picks on education and picks on the handicapped first,” he said.