A legislator who represents the city of Vinton says she’d like to see the Iowa Braille School closed down if students no longer live there. The Board of Regents, which governs the institution, is considering the residential program’s future.

The institution was started in 1852 as a live-in school for blind students, but today most local schools offer services to blind students so they can live at home. Representative Dawn Pettengill, a Republican from Mount Auburn, says she objects to keeping the Iowa Braille School open as simply some sort of service center for the Iowa System for Vision Services.

“If those nine kids are taken out of the Braille School, there will be no kids, so if anybody here believes a school is a school with no kids in it, I want you to hold up your hand,” Pettengill says. “It’s an administration building.”

Representative Dave Heaton, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, says the Board of Regents shoudn’t be making decisions about the school’s future on its own. “The legislature should have the opportunity to make the decision,” Heaton says.

Representative Vicki Lensing, a Democrat from Iowa City, says keeping the school open as an administrative center, even if students don’t live there, makes sense. “The Braille and Sight-Saving School has a bigger vision, bigger role in serving students statewide,” Lensing says. “…Moving the children that currently are residents at the school does not close the school.”

Later this summer, the Board of Regents is to submit its recommendation about the school’s future to the Legislative Council, a panel made up of legislative leaders. Lensing says those top lawmakers — from both parties — would likely forward the matter on to the full legislature for a decision.

But Pettengill isn’t sure about that and she wants the legislature to take some action now so that’s assured. “If the recommendation comes back that there will be no students in that school, then I don’t want to pay for the school that’s really an administration building,” Pettengill says.

After nearly 40 minutes of debate this week, the Iowa House narrowly voted against following Pettengill’s lead on this issue. That means the Board of Regents will submit its recommendation on the school’s future to the Legislative Council this summer. The Iowa College for the Blind — now known as the Iowa Braille School — was where Mary Ingalls, the blind sister of author Laura Ingalls Wilder, attended school and graduated in 1889.