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State lays out conditions to keep San Pasqual Academy open longer; advocates say it only delays closure

Supporters of San Pasqual Academy, a boarding school for foster children, met outside the school in Escondido on May 4.
Supporters of San Pasqual Academy, a boarding school for foster children, met outside the school in Escondido on Tuesday, May 4, 2021, to urge county officials to negotiate terms that would prevent the academy from accepting new foster care students. Speaking at the microphone is Shave Harris, government affairs liaison of San Pasqual Academy.
(Andrea Lopez-Villafaña/The San Diego Union-Tribune )

The State agrees to extend operations at school for foster kids through June 2022, if county stops placing new foster youth there.

California regulators proposed keeping San Pasqual Academy, a boarding school for foster children, open through June 2022 — eight months longer than planned — if the county stops sending new students to the school and follows other conditions.

The 20-year-old institution is a residential school for kids ages 12 to 19 in the county’s foster system. The campus serves 82 foster children, providing education, work readiness training and activities.

The academy faces state orders to close by October because of declining enrollment and changes in state and federal law concerning congregate living in foster care facilities.

The federal government has said it won’t fund the school beyond October; federal funds account for a quarter of the school’s $14 million annual budget.

County officials recently asked the state to extend the closure deadline for the campus, saying it would allow next year’s graduating class to finish the school year. The county would need to invest about $1.4 million to cover the loss of federal money through June.

According to a May 3 letter by the California Department of Social Services, the state is willing to grant an extension to Pasqual Academy, to allow the academy to operate through June 30, 2022 — which allows current students to graduate — as long as the county agrees not to place new foster youth at San Pasqual.

A group of San Pasqual supporters and leaders said Tuesday, May 4, they want the state to keep school open indefinitely.

Agreement allowing the boarding school for foster children will end as state seeks to discourage placing children in congregate living facilities.

Several foster care advocates and campus staff joined Tia Moore, director of San Pasqual, and Shane Harris, government affairs liaison of San Pasqual, outside the Escondido boarding school Tuesday, May 4, for a press conference to urge county officials to continue negotiating with the state — to get them to allow new students to enroll.

They say the state’s extension terms outlined by its Department of Social Services are intended to kill the program.

“To say that you are no longer going to send youth to this campus is to say that this academy will close,” said Harris, who also is a former student of the academy. “To say that you are not going to send any more youth to this campus is to say that you don’t care about ... our county’s foster care children having alternative options.”

The state’s conditions also require the county to confirm that child and family team meetings are occurring for each student, to arrange for an independent third-party to assess the children’s experiences at the academy, and to provide twice-monthly updates to Angie Schwartz, deputy director of Children and Family Services Division, regarding transition plans for each student.

In March San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to request an extension. The board also voted to seek an exemption to keep it open indefinitely.

The Board of Supervisors will ask the state to wait until June 2022, or longer, to shut boarding school for foster students

Supervisor Jim Desmond said he is confident the extension will be approved, but because the state won’t allow new placements he plans to keep pushing “for a permanent solution to keep this valuable tool for our foster youth.”

Other supporters said they plan to keep fighting to keep San Pasqual open, even if the county does not negotiate with the state.

“The youth on this campus have spoken; they want to stay here,” Harris said. “The ones who are graduating in June, they have spoken; they want this place to stay open for years to come for other youth, because they know (San Pasqual Academy) is not for everybody, but it’s for somebody. We need every option viable for the youth in our systems.”

— Andrea Lopez-Villafana is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune


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