DAVIDSON COUNTY, N.C. — Davidson County parents are concerned a school for special needs students is not entirely accessible for those with disabilities.
About one hundred students with special needs attend Stoner-Thomas School in Lexington, located on County School Road.
It is across the street from Davidson County School System’s central offices.
“Over the last three decades, the children at this school have gone overlooked,” said Ira Matney. His son attends Stoner-Thomas and has autism.
There are several major concerns he and other parents have about the school.
The first is the lack of accessibility on the playground and low-quality equipment that is not adapted for children with disabilities.
“You have children that will roll up on this playground in wheelchairs and they cannot access it. They just look at it,” explained Jamie Hallman. Her twin daughters also have autism and are in different classrooms at Stoner-Thomas.
The school has children from kindergarten to high school, with ages ranging from five to 22 years old.
There are two mobile classrooms in the back of the school and parents are frustrated there are no covered walkways from the trailers to the main building.
“If it happens to be raining, [my son] has a lot of sensory issues so if he gets wet the first thing he wants to do is take his clothes off. And it’s very uncomfortable for him,” said Matney.
The school has at least two bathrooms that do not seem wheelchair accessible, Matney added. The one in the gym has a step up into the single stall, which would be challenging for anyone in a wheelchair to use.
Because there is no cafeteria or lunch room at the school, about 90 of the students are loaded onto buses and travel about two miles to Davis-Townsend Elementary School at least four days a week for lunch. About 10 of the students stay at Stoner-Thomas to eat.
Hallman says it’s not necessarily the distance that concerns her. It’s the fact that loading and unloading children in wheelchairs and with other disabilities takes time.
“It can take an hour and a half,” she said, pointing out it cuts into instructional time. “There’s already a 45 minute deviation from educational instruction. We would really like to push for a cafeteria here. That would take care of that 45 minutes.”
Unfortunately Hallman said lunch itself has its own challenges.
“Sometimes they don’t get what’s on the menu because they eat after the other students and staff at Davis-Townsend. And when you don’t serve some of our kids what’s on the menu and what they’re expecting, you can expect to get some difficult behaviors,” she pointed out.
County Commissioner Todd Yates supports funding for Stoner-Thomas renovations and he called it a priority for the Davidson County Board of Commissioners.
“I think [The Board of County Commissioners] would like to see participation from the school board, which has a fund balance they feel like could split some of the cost here. But the consensus of the board I believe is to move forward with this,” he said.
Yates pointed out, a quarter-cent sales tax is coming up to help build a new school in the northern part of the county.
“But to me I would like to take care of some these needs [at Stoner-Thomas] before we actually go up there and build a brand new school,” he said. “It’s time to take action here.”
Yates would also like to form a working capital improvements committee with representatives from the school system and commission. He believes they should meet monthly to identify needs at all schools and address funding requests early on.
Yates believes needed renovations at Stoner-Thomas would be in the two or three million dollar range.
Parents plan to fight for every penny. “Because a lot of our children, they can’t speak for themselves. So we have to be the voice for them,” promised Matney.
Matney, Hallman and the School’s PTO President have already talked to the Board of Education and planned to address the Davidson County Board of Commissioners at a meeting Tuesday night.
Stoner-Thomas students have hosted a car and bike show for four years to raise money for playground equipment.
Principal Jonathan Hayes also pointed out a greenhouse the students operate and sell produce from.
The principal said the school was built in the 1950s and it doesn’t seem like it’s had major renovations in recent years. He said it did get a new roof a few years ago and the parking lot was re-paved in the last year.
Parents have started a Facebook page to encourage community support:
“We’re just asking for our children to have the same facilities that every other child in the county has,” said Hallman.