LUMBERTON — The Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County is expected to discuss Monday options for where to house West Lumberton Elementary School students during the next school year.
The board, which usually holds its regular monthly meeting the second Tuesday of the month, has instead opted this month to meet at 6 p.m. Monday at Lumberton Junior High School. A reason for the switch was not provided.
Because of severe damage to West Lumberton Elementary School from floodwaters that engulfed the area in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, students have been attending classes at Lumberton Junior High School. While other options may be under consideration — such as moving the students to W.H. Knuckles Elementary School on Martin Luther King Drive — there is an effort by some parents to keep the students at the junior high school until a decision can be made to permanently close the school or rebuild.
“The children need the same school and same teachers,” said Michelle Ivey, the mother of a West Lumberton Elementary School third-grade student. “These children have already lost enough. Many have lost their homes. They have no stability. The only stability they have is their teachers and their principal.”
Ivey pointed out that with about 150 students, West Lumberton Elementary School allows teachers and students a chance to interact more closely and for students to receive the individual attention they deserve.
“As a parent, I know what can be done there,” said Ivey. “My son has been there since pre-K, and I have seen the staff there work through issues with him … . I would hope that these students can remain at Lumberton Junior High until a decision is made about what to do with West Lumberton.”
Ivey praised the staff at the school for their assistance to students in the aftermath of the hurricane.
“I don’t think there is a more loving and passionate group,” Ivey said. “They were so supportive and after the storm they called around to make sure they knew where every child was located. You could just feel the passion and care for these students.:
Lloyd Locklear, who says he was one of the first American Indian to attend Lumberton High School when school integration took place in the 1960s, also wants the students to continue to be housed at Lumberton Junior High until a decision is made on what to do with the damaged elementary school.
“My concern is that students not be moved again,” Locklear said. “They are at the junior high school. Just leave them there.”
Locklear said that community schools are important to maintain a community identity.
“I think that building is still viable as an educational facility and should be utilized,” he said.
Board members Dwayne Smith and Steve Martin both told The Robesonian late last week that there is no way for a permanent decision to be made now concerning the school’s fate until assessments of damage are complete and the results are submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“A lot will depend on what we receive from FEMA in reimbursement for damage to the school and the central office,” Martin said. “We have no clue what FEMA will do. We’ve been told it could take 18 to 24 months for FEMA to act.”
Smith said that people need to understand that there is nothing the board can discuss except “possibly” a temporary solution to the problem. He said anyone attending Monday’s meeting to get a permanent decision is going to be disappointed.
“People need to chill. There is nothing we can talk about except maybe where to put students next year,” Smith said. “Even if we were to make a permanent decision on Monday to rebuild or close the school, nothing would be ready in time for the next school year. This all takes time.”
Smith has repeatedly made known his frustration with the slow and meticulous process of getting damage assessments made and approved by FEMA. Until the district knows how much money it will get, the board can’t decide how to proceed with permanent arrangements for school repairs and new construction, Smith said.
Ivey said that she has been told by school officials that anyone who comes to Monday’s meeting and would like to speak to the board concerning West Lumberton Elementary School will be permitted to do so.
“There should be a large group,” she said. “I hope there will be even a greater number of people at the meeting than I know already plan to attend. Those in the community need to know what is going on.”