There was a mellow, almost somber, mood in the cafeteria of New Hope Academy Charter School until Yolanda Thomas took the mic.
Several other speakers had tried, with varying levels of success, to get the event - advertised as a parent rally - to live up to its name.
But it was Thomas, a church pastor and mother of four sons at New Hope, who got the crowd of 150 or so people on their feet and clapping.
"They don't have the right to make a decision for my child," Thomas said into the mic, her voice reverberating loudly off the cafeteria walls. "New Hope needs to stay open. Do not let your children go back to York City schools."
The "they" to whom Thomas referred are the state charter school appeals board, which voted unanimously Oct. 15 to close New Hope by Jan. 15.
New Hope has 30 days to appeal the board's decision to Commonwealth Court. School officials have said they plan to do so and will seek an immediate stay of the Jan. 15 closure.
While the attorneys work on legal documents, New Hope officials are urging their students' families to work the phones. School employees distributed contact information for politicians and state-level education officials.
Kiersten Sutton, New Hope's director of community partnerships, encouraged parents to call and keep calling.
"Urge them to reverse their decision," she said.
New Hope has also scheduled a protest march from the school to the district's school board meeting Nov. 13.
"We need to make a statement," Sutton said.
State decision: The rally began with Cal Weary, director of New Hope's performing arts program, addressing what he called "the elephant in the room."
On Tuesday, the state charter school appeals board had released a 52-page document explaining its reasons for closing New Hope. The decision is a laundry list of charter violations and unethical financial practices at New Hope first alleged by the district and now upheld by the state.
"There is absolutely no information that has come out in the last 24 hours that is any different than the information that came out two years ago," Weary said, referring to testimony and allegations that first surfaced during charter-renewal hearings in 2012.
The man at the center of those allegations, Isiah Anderson, did not attend Wednesday's rally. Anderson founded the school in 2007, owns the company that manages New Hope and owns several other companies financially tied to New Hope.
Asked to comment on the 52-page decision, Sharee McFadden, New Hope's public relations coordinator, said the school is focused on its students.
"It's the same information that's been presented throughout the process," she said.
Stephen Mitchell, president of New Hope's board of trustees, issued a written statement Wednesday.
"Our school has made improvements continually over time and no one is more committed to putting students first than us," Mitchell wrote.
The statement touts New Hope's 91 percent graduation rate and an 84 percent rate of graduates being accepted to college.
The charter school appeals board and the district "are failing our city's families with contradictions, distractions and politics," Mitchell wrote.
"We are tired of the school system politicizing education and putting our city's children in the middle," he wrote.
- Reach Erin James at email@example.com.