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Despite Parent Pleas, Hurricane-Damaged School To Close For Good

A sign in front of West Lumberton Elementary, the only Robeson County school that remains closed a year after Hurricane Matthew. The storm dumped about three feet of standing water into the building, and destroyed many of its students' homes.
Lisa Philip

A Robeson County elementary school damaged by Hurricane Matthew will close for good. The decision came after a group of parents pleaded to keep it open.Dozens of students who attended West Lumberton Elementary lost their homes – as well as their school building – during the October 2016 flooding. Student and teachers had since been holding class at a nearby junior high.

Related: A Year Later, Lumberton Students Still Coping With Matthew's Destruction

But district leaders said the situation wasn't financially tenable. Many families left the area after Matthew, and enrollment at the school had dropped below 100 students. That meant the state would no longer pay for its principal. Robeson County schools have one of the lowest local per-student funding levels in North Carolina.

Still, parents asked school board members to keep West Lumberton Elementary intact, citing its close ties to the community. Most teachers had been working at the school for more than a decade, which is uncommon for schools like it with high numbers of disadvantaged students. And at a public comment session Tuesday evening, some parents argued rebuilding the school would draw families back to the area.

Despite these pleas, the Robeson County school board voted unanimously Tuesday night to shutter West Lumberton Elementary. Students will be transferred to W.H. Knuckles Elementary in South Lumberton this fall.

Lisa Philip is an occasional contributor to WUNC. Previously, she covered education for the station and covered schools in Howard County, Maryland for the Baltimore Sun newspapers.
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