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Facing closure, Cypress Academy parents demand answers from charter, parish school boards

Sunday evening, parents at Cypress Academy learned their school will close for good this week. Students will be transferred to a school in another charter network. Parents can try to get their children into another school, but the most desirable ones are usually filled up at this point in the year, and their children will not get special consideration.

Parents at Cypress sent the letter below raising concerns about what has happened and what will happen to their children.

Dear Board of Directors of Cypress Academy, members of the Orleans Parish School Board, and EnrollNOLA,

We are writing with regards to the “merger” of Cypress Academy with Lafayette Extension at Dunbar (aka the Choice Foundation). We, along with the staff of Cypress, received news of this three days before the end of school and a few days before the OneApp deadline for round two applications.

This has left families at Cypress, and incoming families, in shock. We are feeling many things — anger, disappointment, sadness, worry, and stress. We need more information, transparency, accountability, and assistance. We are all scrambling with what to do now.

The premise of school choice is that excellent school leaders and teachers can make a difference in our children’s education. So we “chose” this school because of that. And Cypress has pursued that, and have done so while opening their doors to a high number of kids with special needs and reading difficulties.

The message you are sending is that smaller schools like Cypress, that do the right thing — that provide real services to special needs students, that work to have inclusive classrooms, that work in good faith to create an environment that will effectively educate and serve all its students — will not survive.

Although this closure might not qualify as a “school closure” in your technical terms, it is to us. The only thing offered to us is a meeting Tuesday, May 22, at 7 p.m. at Cypress (2417 Orleans Ave.), to learn about Lafayette Academy Extension. We intend to use this forum to ask questions, get answers, and hear from you all — the people accountable for our children’s education.

We demand that you attend this meeting — we need you there. We ask you to arrive ready to listen to how this is impacting us and what our needs are in this process. We ask that you offer real solutions to this terrible situation in which you have put our families. (“Apply to Round 2 of OneApp!” is not a real solution.) We ask that you arrive with solutions for families of special needs students, and those with reading difficulties, many of whom are at Cypress specifically because they cannot get their children’s needs met elsewhere. We need you to be accountable and transparent about this decision and this process.

And we need you to answer some of our most pressing questions:

What can OPSB and the Cypress Board do to prevent this closure from happening/reversing the decision? What would be needed for this NOT to happen?

How did this happen with no public process?

What is the legality of this dramatic decision?

How will OPSB and EnrollNOLA support families in school choice/placement that will actually meet their needs, given this extraordinary timing and circumstance?

What will OPSB ask of other schools in terms of accepting Cypress students/creating the seats necessary to absorb them?

Cypress Academy proactively welcomed students with a broad range of disabilities and invested in the resources required to meet their needs. Students with disabilities and their families chose Cypress partly due to the “pull” of Cypress as a welcoming and accommodating school and also due to the “push” of other schools that were unwilling or unable to meet their needs. In this way, Cypress is subsidizing costs that should be borne across the schools.

What actions are the School Board taking to ensure that all schools under its supervision have the resources needed and the willingness to address the needs of all Orleans Parish students, regardless of ability?

Sincerely,

Concerned Cypress families and stakeholders
Shana Sassoon
Cassie Seiple
Abram Himelstein
Valentina Lostalo
Gene Meneray
Amanda Barre Kogos

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