The Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security in New Castle, which has been struggling to retain students and uphold academic standards, on Tuesday announced that it would be closing its doors — immediately.
“Today was the last day of school for our students,” the school board said in a letter posted on the school’s website. “This was not a decision we made lightly. Indeed, we understand that this sudden closure will undoubtedly cause stress on you and your families. We can only apologize and try to explain why we are making this choice at this time.”
The letter lays out several reasons for closing.
First, though the board had hoped to have more than 200 students this year, 30 who had applied and were accepted at DAPSS never showed up for classes. The Delaware Department of Education put DAPSS on probation in March, stipulating that it would need to increase enrollment, among other things, to keep its license.
Another major concern was the school’s finances, which are affected by enrollment.
“New financial information that came to the board only last week showed that our budget shortfall for this school year is far greater than previously believed,” the board says in its letter. “Due to these unexpected downturns, it is clear we will not have enough money to keep the doors open for the entire school year. We have exhausted all options for additional funding.”
Margie Lopez-Waite, who was recently made the head of school at DAPSS, said the shortfall is more than $500,000. Former Head of School Herbert Sheldon, who previously served as the school’s chief financial officer, is no longer with DAPSS.
Lopez-Waite stepped in and served as head of the school board earlier this year, and is also head of school at the popular Las Américas ASPIRA Academy, a Newark charter school with a lengthy waitlist.
She said hopes had been high this summer. Things seemed like they were turning around.
But then, on top of the enrollment issue, the school discovered that several invoices from a previous financial year, before Lopez-Waite came on board, had never been paid.
“You just can’t operate a school with that kind of shortage,” she said Tuesday night, saying the board was faced with two choices: close the school immediately and give students a chance to enroll somewhere else or chug along until the money ran out.
“It’s so unfortunate and so disappointing and definitely not the outcome we were working toward,” she said.
Lopez-Waite said she could not comment on who was responsible for the invoices because it was a personnel matter.
The school had struggled academically, as well. In 2017-18, only 17.14 percent of students were expert in English and less than 5 percent were expert in math, according to SAT scores.
Students enrolled at the school will have to immediately start searching for somewhere else to attend. DAPPS will hold a high school enrollment fair at the school on Wednesday from 2 to 5 p.m. with representatives from any local high schools that have openings.
“We know that closing now will cause a disruption for our students, but we hope the transition will be more manageable earlier in the school year than it would be if we closed midway through the year,” the board says in its letter. “As difficult as this is, we believe it is the responsible thing to do in the best interests of our students.”
“Please understand that closing now is timed to make sure that students are eligible to enroll in new schools before the September 30 enrollment deadline. This date is critical for public school funding, so it is imperative that our students complete their registration and begin attending their new school by this Friday, Sept. 28 at the latest.”
The letter also apologizes to teachers and staff and says they will meet with the Head of School Wednesday morning to discuss the news.
The board also held a special meeting Tuesday night to discuss the closing.
DAPSS is a charter high school serving students in grades 9-12. Its focus is on preparing students for careers as first responders, such as law enforcement, firefighters and EMTs.
“To our students, please know that we believe in you and what you mean to the future in our community,” the school board said in its letter. “Just yesterday, our students were out in the community visiting local public safety personnel on their yearly Day of Service.
“Your new schools will be lucky to have students with such energy and spirit. We wish you all well.