Parents react to news that Gateway Education Center could close
Featured photo: Dale Metz, left, former principal of Gateway Education Center for 21 years, noted that the problem of closing the school was easy to remedy. “Just fix the building,” he said. Metz attended the April 17 School Board meeting in support of Gateway.
By: Norma B. Dennis, firstname.lastname@example.org
Supporters of Gateway Education Center in Greensboro filled the Guilford County Board of Education meeting room on April 17 for what would normally be a cut and dried presentation of budget recommendations for the coming year. Many of those in attendance held signs encouraging the Board to fix their school.
The unusual number of people at the meeting was a response to news they learned only days earlier that Superintendent Sharon Contreras intended to recommend Gateway be closed and students be dispersed among other schools in the county that serve students with special needs.
Gateway was built in 1983 for students with physical and intellectual disabilities. The school also houses four infant/toddler classrooms that are supported by the Greensboro Cerebral Palsy Association.
Parents of Gateway students were notified by phone April 12-13 that the school would close at the end of the school year.
“I was told it was a script provided for the phone calls and later returned to the central office,” said Gateway PTA President Dania Ermentrout. “It said the school was closing for facility reasons.”
Ongoing issues referred to by the superintendent included water leaks, windows with broken seals that trapped moisture in between the glass panes, pest control, raw sewage, clogged toilets and a nonfunctional therapy pool that has been used to store broken and outdated equipment for several years.
The district planned to have many of the Gateway students transferred to Haynes-Inman Education Center in Jamestown. Both schools serve students from pre-kindergarten to age 22 with similar disabilities and healthcare needs.
“There are 55 schools with total facility scores lower than Gateway,” Ermentrout said. “Based on reports, our school is not first in line for repairs. I do not know why we were singled out in this way. It is unclear what the motivation is. It should never have happened. The data does not support this emergency. We know many schools that need to be fixed, but now we feel obligated to ask for money to fix ours.”
The way the announcement of the school closing was made is just one of the many issues that have caused concern in the lives of parents already stressed with the care of a child faced with disabilities.
“It is clear from the information we were given that the ripple effect would be substantial,” Ermentrout said. “The pre-school classes at Haynes-Inman – one of the schools to which Gateway students would likely be transitioned – would have to be moved to other schools to make room for our students.”
There is also the question of what would happen to the nonteaching staff.
“The entire community will be affected,” Ermentrout said. “We are doing this for them as much as for our children. Many people move to this area because of Gateway. The economic impact of that should not be ignored.”
Parents also noted medically fragile students would face longer bus rides and that they need the consistency they receive at Gateway.
“A change of scenery would be devastating to her,” said Cathy Gold, whose 18-year-old daughter Lizzie has attended Gateway since she was 2. “Kids like her do not do well with change. They can melt down and digress for weeks at a time.
“I don’t think Lizzie would have come close to reaching her potential elsewhere the way she has at Gateway.”
Superintendent Contreras has stepped back in her recommendations that Gateway be closed at the end of the 2018-2019 school year. She has maintained that her concern has always been for the safety of medically fragile students. Now, however, she says Guilford County Schools will keep the building open for parents who do not want to move their child.
“We have been made to feel that we are not concerned for our children’s health,” Ermentrout said. “Placement of these children should be a very thoughtful thing. We are just trying to maintain a separate school which is the only one like it in East Guilford County – to keep our children close to us.”
“The first step is to talk to the county commissioners and see what they can do,” Addy Jeffrey said.
Gateway parents attended the Guilford County Board of Commissioners meeting April 18 to request money to fix their school. In response to the parents’ public comments about the structural problems that threatened the closing of Gateway, commissioners tabled consideration of a plan by school leaders to reallocate $7.1 million in bond money for new Career and Technical Education academies at five GCS schools.
School leaders are now considering using some of those funds to make critical repairs at Gateway. The commissioners want time to confer with the Guilford County Board of Education.
Meanwhile, Gateway parents plan to attend the April 30 school board meeting and address funding for repairs to their school.
“In order to keep our school open, we feel the only path forward is to try to address the issues cited by the superintendent,” Ermentrout said. “We must help our children, those without voices.”