Classes reopen at Barclay School

RIDGEWAY – When the Barclay School closed for the Christmas holiday, Gillian Barclay-Smith wasn’t sure if it would be able to reopen for the spring semester.

But the outpouring of help from the community has been incredible, says Barclay-Smith, who is head and founder of the school. In the weeks since announcing their need, the school has raised about $50,000 – about a third of what the little special needs school in Ridgeway needs to complete the school year.

So on Monday, Jan. 6, school was back in session – and they’re continuing the fundraising effort with a lot of hope and prayers.

“We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there,” says Barclay-Smith, sounding a little emotional as she wrote thank-you notes to donors. “The kindness of strangers has been unbelievable. I’ve just opened a check from somebody in Greenville, and I got one from Texas. The outpouring of goodwill and kindness has been fabulous.”

The funding challenge comes in large part because of a change to federal tax law that reduced charitable contributions to nonprofits like Exceptional SC, which distributes funds donated by taxpayers through an education-focused tax credit program for special needs schools in South Carolina.

Barclay-Smith is hoping the school will receive about $35,000 from Exceptional SC’s scholarship program before the end of the school year – a fraction of what it received in the past but still a significant chunk of what’s needed to keep the doors open.

In December the total fundraising target was set at $150,000 to get through the spring semester – enough to cover bare-bones expenses like paying teachers and payroll taxes and keeping the lights on.

The Barclay School, which opened 11 years ago to provide a holistic approach to special education, has always operated on a shoestring budget, charging tuition on a sliding scale and relying on community volunteers to help enrich the lives of students.

The first sign of hope that they’d be able to keep the doors open, Barclay-Smith says, was a decision by the school’s landlord, MEKRA Lang North America, to give them free rent in 2020 – a contribution worth about $36,000.

Add that to the $50,000 raised so far from private donations and the $35,000 she’s hoping to receive from the tax donation program, and the goal is starting to look attainable.

On paper, that leaves just $29,000 that’s still needed to finish the semester – and buy the time necessary to come up with a long-term plan for the school that doesn’t rely heavily on scholarship funds from the state tax credit program.

Currently, Barclay-Smith says, parents and supporters are working on that. Meanwhile, they’ve revamped the school’s online presence and have set up a donation page at

Going forward, Barclay-Smith has a lot of hope – and a lot of gratitude for the help that’s enabled her to get everyone back to school in the new year. She calculates that they now have enough money to stay open through March – and she’s hoping the support continues so they can finish out the year.

As the new semester begins, she says, she’s keeping her focus on the students – and, as fundraising efforts continue, trying not to dwell on the uncertainty of the school’s future.

“We’re trying not to think of that,” she says. “We’re trying to keep going.”

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