Three days before summer break at Cypress Academy, the small charter school in Mid-City told parents that Wednesday will be its last day — forever.
Students will be transferred automatically to Lafayette Academy Extension at the Paul L. Dunbar School, a Choice Foundation charter school.
If they don’t want to join the Uptown school at 9330 Forshey St., they can enter the citywide enrollment lottery, but the deadline for the second round of the lottery is Friday, and seats at the most desirable schools are usually taken by now.
“There was no hint that something like this could happen,” parent Wesley Cheek wrote in an email Sunday night. He learned about the closure in an email announcement earlier Sunday.
“I had just been at a birthday party for my son’s classmate with lots of other Cypress parents,” he wrote. Although it has been a rough year, “we had talked about how we were all coming back next year because … our kids liked each other and we really believed in the school and Dr. (Bob) Berk,” the school leader.
Berk founded the school in 2016 with a focus on students with special-education needs, saying they weren’t being well served by some schools where he had worked.
The school, which had 105 students, initially planned to have just kindergarten its inaugural year. But it had trouble attracting enough students, so it added first grade.
Berk and board President Lance Query referred to that challenge in their message to the school community.
“Unfortunately, we remain a relatively small school, and our lack of scale in student numbers makes it very difficult to pay for the quality our students and families have come to expect and deserve,” they wrote.
When a charter school closes, those students often get priority in the OneApp school selection process, putting them ahead of other students. But Chief Student Access Officer Gabriela Fighetti said Cypress students will not receive priority because the students will be transferred to Dunbar unless they choose otherwise.
Two weeks ago, a year-end funding shortfall from the state caught charter schools off guard. Some will have to dip into their reserve funds, and school system leaders said the shortfall could hurt small schools more.
Berk didn’t immediately respond to questions.
Cypress rented classrooms at Touro Synagogue when it opened and moved to a building at 4217 Orleans Ave. this school year.
Cheek said he liked that Cypress emphasized community over standardized test scores. The school hasn’t received an official grade from the state.
The school reserved 20 percent of its seats for students at risk of a reading disability.
Cypress’ board of directors met Sunday. The agenda said nothing about the school's closing. It did mention a “potential partnership” with the Choice Foundation, but no vote was planned on the matter.
In their announcement, Berk and Query wrote that Lafayette Academy has the “capacity and capital — financial and human” to support Cypress students. They wrote that they hope parents will transfer their children there.
Parent Jenny Schecter said she looked online for information about Lafayette Academy after learning Cypress will close. She found little. On the school’s website, an overview page says “Coming soon!”
Schecter said she and her husband didn’t fill out a OneApp request for their 6-year-old son this year because they wanted him to attend Cypress through eighth grade.
“There just aren’t that many schools left that are going to be able to meet the needs of our family,” she said.
Cheek feels stuck, too. “I don’t get it. Where did this come from?" he asked. "Why are we finding out this late? Is this an appropriate way to handle things? What the hell is the Lafayette Academy Dunbar Extension? How are we supposed to explain all of this to a 6-year-old?”
Cypress isn’t the first charter school to decide to close its doors and team up with a larger network in search of more resources. In 2014, the board of McDonogh City Park Academy voted to have ReNEW Schools come in and run the charter school. In December, after the school received an F, ReNEW decided to close it.
Cypress will hold a parents meeting Tuesday night.