Fight to save San Pasqual Academy isn’t over, Shane Harris says

Shane Harris, government liasion for San Pasqual Academy, speaks at a press conference
Shane Harris, government liasion for San Pasqual Academy, speaks at a press conference about the fight to save the boarding school for foster youth.
(ReginalPhoto courtesy of Shane Harrisd G. Hailey)

The San Diego civil rights activist said he and others will try to preserve the boarding school for foster youth, due to close next year


Although the clock is ticking for San Pasqual Academy, the fight to save the boarding school for foster youth in North County is still on, Shane Harris, a civil rights activist and government liaison for the facility said Wednesday, June 2.

“My hope is that the acres (of the campus) will primarily continue to serve the foster youth in our county,” he said.

Last month the county Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an agreement with the state to keep San Pasqual Academy open until June 2022 while the county identifies new ways to use the campus to serve foster youth and other children. The school sits near the Safari Park in the San Pasqual Valley.

The state had previously ordered the county to close the 20-year-old academy by Oct. 1, following changes to federal law that discourage use of congregate care facilities for foster children, and favor home placement instead. The agreement pushes back that deadline until June 2022, but forbids the campus from accepting any new foster referrals in the meantime.

Harris disagreed with that provision, saying the school should be allowed to accept students who would be graduating seniors next year. However, he said the extension is a welcome reprieve for students now enrolled.

“The youth who are on the campus will not have to move out of the campus,” he said. “That is something to be proud of.”

Harris said he believes the campus is incorrectly categorized as a congregate care facility, or group home, when it should be regulated as a boarding school. Last month Supervisor Jim Desmond called on the board to seek a regulatory “carve-out” in state law that recognizes the unique nature of the facility. The board voted against that, arguing that it would divert time and attention that is better spent planning the next steps for the facility.

Harris, who lived in foster care for 13 years, said he was enrolled at San Pasqual Academy from 2008 to 2010. The campus provides a unique setting for foster youth, particularly teens, who might not thrive in home placements, supporters say.

He said it should continue to function as a boarding school, or potentially house foster children who would live on site with host families.

“We need an alternative option,” he said. “Not every youth will fit into a foster home.”

— Deborah Sullivan-Brennan is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune