Rachel Radford

Rachel Radford pleads with Wayne County commissioners for information about the fate of Edgewood Community Developmental School — which she said the school board has failed to provide. However, in a prepared statement, schools Superintendent Michael Dunsmore said an official decision is expected by the end of June.

A decision on Edgewood Community Developmental School is expected by the end of the month.

Wayne County Public Schools Superintendent Michael Dunsmore made the announcement Tuesday following comments by Rachel Radford that school officials have been unresponsive to her questions about the school.

Dunsmore is out of the office this week but made the following statement after his office was contacted for comment.

“With the 2019-2020 local budget now approved by the board of commissioners, we are in the process of reviewing all options to finalize the best direction moving forward for students and families at Edgewood,” he said.

“We anticipate an official decision by the end of June. While we would have preferred being able to announce earlier this semester about whether the school would remain on the same campus, be relocated, or have a new grade configuration, several key variables needed to be addressed first.”

Radford, who called herself a “parent advocate in the community,” told Wayne County commissioners during their Tuesday meeting that she did not know what else to do as an advocate other than speaking to commissioners and the board of education.

“I spoke in front of them on April 15 and on May 20,” she said. “I still haven’t gotten answers. Families were supposed to find out on the last day of school whether their school would stay open, whether it would be split up, or whether it would be completely shut down — every child having to go back to their home school.”

Shutting down the school would be “astronomical” in cost because each child has individual placement documents — legal documents spelling out services, Radford said. Also, each child at Edgewood has a nurse, she said.

Also, the county is having to contract out for the services; it cannot get people to stay because other counties pay more, Radford said.

Radford said she started volunteering her time to help special needs families four years ago when her son was bullied in a kindergarten classroom to the point that he suffered bruises on his back.

“The school didn’t care,” she said. “They told me bullying didn’t happen until third grade. The EC (exceptional children) director, that is not the current EC director, she wouldn’t help me, and our current superintendent wouldn’t help me either.”

Radford said she and her husband called the superintendent for two weeks, but were unable to contact him until they filed a complaint with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

“Then he wanted to talk to me,” she said. “So that experience taught me so much, and it has made me the advocate that I am in the community.”

Radford said she ran the Wayne County Chapter of the Autism Society of North Carolina last year. She has also been involved for the past three years with the Local Interagency Coordinating Council for ages birth to 5 with special needs and disabilities in the county.

Radford said she has been upset by what she has read in the newspaper over the past several months about the Edgewood Community Developmental School, commissioners and school board.

She said she has two autistic sons. She also has a non-verbal nephew currently attending Edgewood.

“There is no school in this county that can accommodate his needs,” Radford said. “There are 175 children at Edgewood Community Developmental center. Half of those are military. Half of those are autistic, and the autistic children there cannot deal with change. You are talking about severe regression for your autistic children if you took them out of that school and shut it down.

“I have been told by Wayne County Public Schools it is this board’s fault. I have been told by people in the community; it is just constant fighting. When you read it in the paper, I just see fighting, and I don’t want to see fighting. I want to see what is done right for education.”

Currently, the exceptional children’s department is underfunded, and children are not receiving the services they need, she said.

“Special-needs families are not seen in Wayne County,” she said. “We are not supported, and there is nothing in the county to show for it. The city doesn’t see us. Our county commissioners don’t see us, and our board of education does not see us. I feel like our families don’t exist here.

“There is no voice for EC kids on this board. There is no voice for EC kids on the board of education. There’s no voice for EC kids on the City Council. The little bit that we are doing for special needs is the bare minimum, and we need to do more. We need to be seen. We do not need to be embarrassed, and we need to be loved.”

The county lacks a park for special-needs families, other than at Edgewood, Radford said. However, that is fenced-in so people cannot get to it, she said.

The closest special-needs playgrounds are in Smithfield, Greenville and Raleigh, Radford said.

COMMISSIONERS RESPOND

Commissioner Joe Daughtery told Radford that he agrees with her.

“This is uncalled for that the parents and students at Edgewood have not gotten an answer in regard to the future of that school,” he said. “To make sure that you understand, our board here has actually added back additional funding for Edgewood that was to be used to actually pay for the so-called mortgage on the Meadow Lane school.

“We have added that back, and I think that came to $587,000. The problem is that there is some other funding that has been cut. But the school board and administration is simply going to have to acknowledge whether or not they are going to continue with that program. But they need to let you know something because you are going to have to make arrangements.”

Those parents deserve to know so they can have time to make arrangements because the school year will begin again in August, he said.

“That is only a few months away,” Daughtery said. “I do feel your pain. This board is very concerned about it. This board is looking to the school system to make some decisions.”

Commissioner Ray Mayo said that during the last school board meeting he attended he understood a decision would be made in June.

Commissioner Wayne Aycock reminded the public the board of education is an elected board just like commissioners.

“This board cannot tell the board of education what they can and can’t do,” Aycock said. “We can sit down and have a conversation and work together.

“I think we have done that in the past. It is our responsibility to fund the facilities for the schools, but I want everybody to know that they are elected just like we are.”