Taking another step toward becoming an all-charter district, the Orleans Parish school district informed Cypress Academy parents it will hand the school over to an outside operator next year, in spite of the district’s promises to run the school directly through the 2019-2020 school year.

On Monday, Cypress parents will learn who the small school’s new charter operator will be, according to a letter district Chief of Schools Rene’ Lewis-Carter sent them this week. On Thursday, some Cypress parents attended a district public hearing to express their frustration.

“You may be asking, ‘Why now?’ And, ‘Why have we decided not to run the school for the 2019-20 school year as we initially committed?’” Lewis-Carter wrote in the letter.

Cypress was a charter school through the end of last school year. But when its governing board abruptly decided to shut down last spring, the district, in response to parents, agreed to run the school directly for two years. The school has a higher than average percentage of students with disabilities. Parents said if the district gave up on Cypress, it would discourage charter operators from trying to serve special education students, whose needs are often costlier than other students.

“You may be asking, ‘Why now?’ And, ‘Why have we decided not to run the school for the 2019-20 school year as we initially committed?’ “—Rene’ Lewis-Carter, Orleans Parish school district

“Since last summer many factors have changed,” Lewis-Carter wrote, “including the number of students enrolled.”

It’s not clear how enrollment factors into the decision. The school is small but growing. As of Oct. 1, it had 188 students enrolled, according to the state department of education. At the state’s previous count, on Feb. 1, it had 156 students.

The school is operating out of one of the older and more rundown buildings in the district’s portfolio. Parents say only one set of bathrooms in the building works and recently, when its principal was temporarily forced to use a wheelchair, she could not reach the upper floors.

Lewis-Carter wrote the district had spoken with families to get their feedback.

Orleans Parish schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis “gave his word and made a commitment to Cypress, the students, the parents, and the staff,” parent Jeremy Dewberry told The Lens. “He and OPSB staff have been combative, deceitful, and dismissive throughout this entire experience.”

Dewberry criticized the Orleans Parish School Board for failing to represent parents.

“Allowing such unethical behavior from the Superintendent and his staff is a dereliction of their civic duty to represent their constituents best interests,” he said of the board.

“If the two schools they run fail it is due to poor leadership and incompetence,” he said. “They knowingly and intentionally provide substandard operations in hopes they will be able to offload failing schools.”

Dewberry noted that the district now runs only two schools directly: Cypress and McDonogh 35 Senior High School. For years, the district has tried to offload McDonogh 35 to a charter or “contract” operator. The district has halted enrollment at the high school.

”They knowingly and intentionally provide substandard operations in hopes they will be able to offload failing schools..”—Jeremy Dewberry, Cypress parent

Madelyn Meyn, whose two children attend Cypress, said the district “has continually undermined the process of stability they promised.”
“This in turn has caused issues with student retention,” she said. “They refuse to admit they are part of the problem.”

She wants the district to live up to its promise, which she says would help with student enrollment. “This would allow for our children to have stability and school security.”

Meyn told The Lens that the district specifically asked for individual parent letters, rather than group input, about the future of the school.

District officials did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

At a parent meeting last month, the district proposed four charter operators: Morris Jeff Community School, Noble Minds Institute for Whole Child Learning, Foundation Preparatory Academy and The Querencia School.

Noble Minds has had low enrollment. This fall, its governing board implored its administration to recruit more students before the Oct. 1 statewide student count, which determines how much funding each school will receive from the state.

As of Feb. 1, Foundation Preparatory Academy, which is just over a mile from Cypress in a large middle school, had 151 students enrolled.

District administrators have said they want to make a decision before the city’s centralized enrollment lottery, called OneApp, opens in mid-November.

“Based on the feedback we have received to date and the needs of each potential operator, the Superintendent is prepared to decide the future operator for Cypress,” Lewis-Carter wrote.

The parent meeting will be held in Cypress’ cafeteria on Monday at 5:30 p.m.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...