Keep Wright School

Jul. 14, 2014 @ 04:49 PM

The Wright School, a nationally recognized residential program for children with serious emotional and behavioral disorders, must be growing weary of its near-death experiences.

For at least the third time in the past five years, the school faces the prospect of being dropped from the state budget.

The school, off North Roxboro Road in Durham, elicits passionate support from those whose children have been helped there. For many, it has been the only facility to successfully address their issues. Mental health agencies across the state refer patients, who typically have at least three psychiatrist diagnoses and are on several medications.

Writing about the school in June 2013 – when the school also faced the loss of state funding – Mebane Rash of the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research noted that “From 2006 to 2010, surveys of parent satisfaction with services averaged 90 percent or higher annually.  In the most recent annual report, parent satisfaction was 95 percent.  There were no investigations into the care the Wright School provided last year.”

Deborah Simmers, a former director of the school, told Rash that “the treatment at the Wright School is so much more normalizing and less traumatic than other kinds of out-of-home care, like a hospital or a psychiatric residential treatment facility.”

Elizabeth Sydnor of Raleigh echoes that support from a parent’s perspective. Her son, Burton, has been a patient and “it’s the first time that somebody’s ever gotten what’s going on in our house, and what’s going on with our kid,” she told The Herald-Sun’s Laura Oleniacz.

But money for the school is not in the State Senate’s version of the budget for the fiscal year that began two weeks ago.  It is, fortunately, in the House budget, but at this point it is impossible to tell how it will fare in negotiations to resolve differences in the two chambers’ budgets.

Joe Reed, the husband of a school employee who has been rallying petition signatures in support of the school, thinks many of the school’s detractors don’t fully understand it. Although the school has only 24 beds, for example, patients rotate through it and the school serves about 60 children a year.

“Given that the total (school) budgets approximately $2.7 million, it seems a penny-wise and pound-foolish approach to reducing the budget deficit,” Reed said. Closing the school in September would be “devastating to the children, families, and their communities statewide who all rely on Wright School as the last best hope for their children’s treatment,” he said.

The attempt to shut the school is hardly a partisan issue. This year, as in the past, state Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Wake County Republican and senior chairman of the appropriations committee, is a strong ally.

“The House is, has been, and will remain committed to the operations of the Wright School,” Dollar said last week. “The Wright School has very strong, very broad support,”

That support – and the school’s record of success – should retain its place in the state budget.