Parents fight closure of Fort Lauderdale special needs schools

'Wingate Oaks' and 'Sunset School' plan to close this year

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - At a meeting Tuesday, parents expressed their ire that the school they've grown to trust for their special needs kids, Wingate Oaks, is expected to shut its doors at the end of the school year.

Located in Fort Lauderdale, Wingate Oaks is one of six Broward schools that serves children with a variety of needs, from autism to cerebral palsy to unique medical disorders.

Along with Sunset School in Fort Lauderdale, Wingate was chosen by the Broward School district to close due to low enrollment. Combined, Wingate and Sunset serve under 200 students.

But parents like David Martinez, whose daughter is considered medically fragile, said closing these schools and forcing parents to adjust to a new school is not easy for families with special needs children. Martinez said the issue is trust.

"She has never eaten by mouth, and she is seven years old. And at this school, they have earned my trust and the trust of the community," Martinez said.

The meeting inside Wingate's cafeteria, held by Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, Wingate's principal, and other board members, was standing-room-only. Several parents cried when they talked about the school's imminent closure.

A district spokesperson said the closures are about efficiency and aligning services.

Broward Schools superintendent Robert Runcie said his priority is giving all students a top education.

"We're trying to put the students in a better environment where we're going to be able to enrich their academic experiences as well as our ability to deliver services to them," Runcie said. 

Beginning next school year, students would be funneled to the four remaining special-needs schools instead. Wingate Oaks students would go to Bright Horizons or Quest. Students who attend Sunset would instead to go to Whispering Pines or Cross Creek.

Martinez said he and other parents  plan to fight the changes. 

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