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Oil Price Decline Dooms Off-Beat Oklahoma City School With AM-Oil-Schools

May 26, 1986

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Cleveland Innovative School opened nine years ago as a haven for bright, artistic high school students whose noncomformist manners and appearance often made them outcasts in other public schools.

The school offered its pupils the rare gift of intimacy in a big-city school - a 20-1 pupil-teacher ratio and the freedom to call adults by their first names and dress unconventionally without provoking angry glares from fellow students or teachers.

Jean-Paul Laflamme, 16, a straight-A art student with an earring in his left lobe, recalled his bitter experiences at another Oklahoma City school before he transferred to Cleveland.

″People called me names,″ he said. ″I had guns pulled on me by fellow students because I was looked on as being in a punked-out scene.″

Melisa Wagner, a 17-year-old senior studying art and poetry, came here to escape the ″aura of violence″ at Del City High School. ″A girl once grabbed my hair and beat me for no reason,″ she said.

″Because of our smallness, we are able to be intimate. The kids who choose to come here need that. They don’t take very well to authority figures,″ said principal Kay Barry, a pert, lively educator who calls her two years at Cleveland ″the highlight of my career.″

Despite the relaxed trappings, Cleveland is also a no-nonsense, high achieving school where the minimum passing grade is 77 and standardized test scores are among the highest in Oklahoma City.

But this spring, Cleveland Innovative became a casualty of the oil price drop that has dried up school funds throughout the state.

″Please be advised,″ read the letters sent in April to parents of the school’s 180 students, ″that your child now enrolled at Cleveland will be assigned to the high school serving the attendance area of your residence.″

In order to save the cash-starved school district $200,000, Cleveland was closing its doors forever.

But not, as it turned out, without a fight.

Barry said there had been talk at the beginning of the school year of turning Cleveland into a showcase performing arts center, complete with well- equipped auditoriums and practice rooms.

″When the bad economic news hit, the idea died,″ she said. ″That’s when rumors started about closing schools down. And our name always came up.″

What followed was a losing battle by Cleveland students and teachers to keep their school open.

″We organized rallies,″ said Douglas Evans, a 16-year-old junior majoring in business. He met with Elizabeth Ennis, the city director of high schools, who explained why Cleveland had become prohibitive expensive.

On April 8, the school board met to formally declare Cleveland’s end. Cleveland students picketed the board headquarters. At first, the board refused to hear their arguments. They eventually relented, granting them three minutes to defend the school.

Six days later, by a 6-1 vote, the board voted to close Cleveland.

″Some of my friends and I are planning to go to the same school together next year, pretty much as protection,″ said Laflamme.

″A lot of students don’t want to go back. They’re scared to,″ said Wagner. ″But a lot of us have gained strength at Cleveland, and we’ll carry on next fall. If we drop out, then they’ve won.

″Creativity and intelligence was nurtured here,″ she added. ″There are so many who won’t experience that now.″

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