RALEIGH, N.C. — About 100 people opposed to a plan to close the state's only school for the blind rallied outside the state Legislature Wednesday.
Lawmakers are considering closing the Gov. Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh to help erase a projected $4.5 billion shortfall. The House version of the budget stops new enrollment and closes the school in two years.
Students at the school would be shifted to either the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf in Wilson or the North Carolina School for the Deaf in Morganton or would be put back into the public school system.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the schools, is facing more than $1 billion in budget cuts.
Secretary Lanier Cansler has said the department is trying to find the best ways to deal with the cuts with the least impact on services.
It costs about $30 million to operate the three schools, which serve about 250 students combined, he said. Closing the Morehead School would save the state about $10 million.
A plan was on the table last month to close both schools for the deaf and move students to the school for the blind. Cansler said that would save about $17 million.
Opponents to the plans, however, argue that combining the students would set them up to fail, because each school is specialized to meet students' individual needs.
"Those students that are hearing impaired, or deaf, will learn visually and through sign language. The two systems do not connect," said James Penton, an opponent of the plan who happens to be visually impaired.
"There's nothing in place to truly take care of these children," said Carolyn Register, a teacher at the Morehead School. "I know, I have a daughter who graduated from this school."
Advocates say that by placing the students in mainstream public schools, they won't learn the skills they need to be independent later on in life.
Ricky Scott, a Morehead School alumnus who went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the school system in his hometown could not provide him with the necessary skills to help him succeed.
He credits the Morehead School with giving him a chance.
"It served as a foundation for me becoming employed as a Social Security disability specialist," he said.