Gateway Education Center will remain open for those who want to stay, Guilford County Schools superintendent says

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The Gateway Education Center is staying open.

It was a packed room, packed hallway and packed parking lot. Gateway families flooded the Guilford County Schools administration building Wednesday morning ready for a fight.

The building was over capacity, forcing families to wait outside to hear the fate of their school.

"It's a community that's bigger than its walls," Gateway PTA President Dania Ermentrout said.

Cheers erupted after Superintendent Dr. Sharon Contreras announced that Gateway's doors would stay open.

"I don't know if she had a change of heart, or if there was something going on, but it was vastly different," Kathy Gold said. "We were told the school is closing and you have 40 days left at this location, and that you will be going to Haynes-Inman. That was the end of the conversation."

Gold's daughter Lizzie has attended Gateway for 16 years and it's changed their lives.

"She is able to do anything. She can push her wheelchair, she can feed herself. It doesn't sound like a big deal to a lot of people," Gold said. "She's learned all of those things by having a consistent, familiar environment and somewhere she is appreciated for who she is and what she can do."

It's success stories like this one parents are proud to share.

"My older daughter has autism and used to not interact with people. Every time she went to that school she was so happy. Now she's able to interact with people and tell us what she needs," Whitney DeBerry said.

DeBerry wanted to show up and help support other Gateway families.

"We're all on the same boat," Ermentrout said. "Trying to raise our children. We want them to be in an environment where they are loved and they are seen."

Gold agrees.

"Lizzie doesn't talk. She doesn't walk. But we feel strongly she has a voice," she said. "She needs to be heard. If she could speak, she would stand up and say, 'Don't close my school, I deserve better than that.'"

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While parents are relieved, they are also confused.

They say they received mixed messages about the school's future.

In the Board of Education meeting, Contreras addressed the communication Gateway families received from the school principal.

"Any mistakes in communication by my school staff or my communication department, I own," she said. "I apologize for the angst it has caused these families."

That communication came in the form of a phone call and a letter sent to parents.

A transcript of that call, obtained by FOX8 states, "at the end of this school year, students will no longer be served at the Gateway Education Center."

The letter, sent home to parents, addressed findings in the facilities study, and Contreras' worry of unsafe learning conditions, in part because of leaky roofs, raw sewage and broken window seals.

The school's principal signed the letter, which in part stated, "school-aged students who attend Gateway will attend Haynes-Inman ... starting in August of this year."

FOX8 asked Contreras about the chain of communication and the anxiety it caused parents.

"[The principal] was calling to let them know it was a recommendation. I was not there, but I know the principal worked very hard," she said.

FOX8 asked about the letter sent to parents and how the closure appeared to have been a done deal.

"It is possible the principal sent a letter where it didn't sound clearly like it was a recommendation," Contreras said. "And for that, I certainly apologize for any angst they have. But again, I don't apologize for trying to get children to safety."

Now, these parents are gearing up for a fight for funding to repair the deteriorating building.

"Let's show them what Greensboro is made of," Ermentrout said. "We've supported people with disabilities since 1949."

FOX8 is told parents will attend Thursday's County Commissioners meeting to ask for money to fund repairs at Gateway over the summer.

On Wednesday, they said they want around $2 million to get rid of the mold, repair the roof and deal with other issues at the school.

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