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Possible closure of Gateway Education Center has parents concerned

Possible closure of Gateway Education Center has parents concerned

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Longtime principal Dale Metz

Gateway Education Center Pricipal Dale Metz (left) plays ball with Allyson Clayton, 5, and her Physical Therapist Shirley Johnson in 2004. Metz retired that year after 21 years as the special-needs school's principal.

GREENSBORO — A group of Gateway Education Center school supporters staged their own version of a press conference on Facebook Live Sunday afternoon to call for Guilford County Schools to continue to operate the school for students with special needs in Greensboro.

“Gateway has been an institution in this town for many decades and it needs to be an institution for many decades to come,” said Dania Mavor Ermentrout, the school’s Parent Teacher Association president and a board member of the The Greensboro Cerebral Palsy Association. “Our children deserve this.”

The move came after Guilford County Schools leaders called, and then postponed, a news conference at Gateway Education Center in Greensboro on Sunday afternoon to talk about an undisclosed upcoming recommendation for the school.

Gateway serves students with severe and multiple mental and/or physical disabilities, who range from 6 months to 22 years old, according to information on the school’s website. Some of the students are medically fragile.

Ermentrout said school parents were called on Friday and told not to expect their children to return next school year.

The group heard about the press conference and showed up, without realizing it had just been canceled. They decided to film their own news conference, taking turns praising the school and laying out their concerns that the school district may choose to close the school. About 14 or 15 people appear in the video, including some former staff.

“We know what kinds of kids are being born and what kind of kids are surviving pre-maturity,” said Dale Metz, a retired principal who led the school for 21 years. “And that’s who we have here, and that’s who we need a space for. That’s why this big, wonderful space was built. So please, please get the word out not to close Gateway.”

Cassidy MacKay, who said she is a parent of a Gateway student, sent an email to the News & Record about the school’s administration phoning parents on Friday afternoon about a decision to close the school at the end of the school year in June.

“After receiving this call, we parents found out that this decision may not be final,” she wrote. “The school board has not voted on it and the plans will be discussed at Wednesday’s budget meeting.”

In an email late Sunday, Wanda Mobley, the district’s director of communications said Superintendent Sharon Contreras would share recommendations with the board and the general public during the 11:30 a.m. work session at the school administration building on Wednesday.

“Some of these recommendations are budget-related; some are not,” she wrote.

The district notified the media early Sunday afternoon about the planned news conference to discuss “recommended plans for Gateway Education Center.” They planned an opportunity to tour the center, as well as a tour of Haynes-Inman Education Center — another Guilford County school for students with special needs — in Jamestown.

Mobley said district leaders had called Sunday’s news conference in anticipation that it would be raining at the time. The district wanted to show how water is getting into the building, she said. But the conference was canceled after the forecast changed.

Mobley said water getting into the building relates to the recommendation they had planned to talk about, but wouldn’t say what the recommendation was.

Guilford County Schools hired a consultant earlier this year to test for mold at Gateway Education Center after water from heavy rains seeped into the building. The News & Record obtained results of that study in an email Sunday following an earlier records request for the document.

On the date of their inspection, consultants found no evidence of mold in any of the student-occupied areas of the school, but did find a small patch of suspect mold growth above the ceiling in a teacher’s lounge. They said that some school staff members reported concerns about “fuzzy or chalk-like substances” appearing on the masonry walls of some classrooms or on the outside of the building.

The consultants also said that there was significant evidence of water previously and currently getting into the building and recommended evaluations of the building’s gutters, roofs and windows, as well as the paving and grading outside the school. They recommended the district repair these and other “building envelope systems” as needed to keep water out of the structure.

Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.

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