San Pasqual Academy to remain open through June 2022

The main entrance to San Pasqual Academy.
(Bill Wechter )

San Pasqual Academy will remain open until June 2022 while the county identifies new ways to use the campus to serve foster youth and other children, the county Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday, May 18.

In a unanimous decision, the board agreed to sign an agreement with the state to keep the boarding school for foster children open through the end of the next school year.

The state had previously ordered the county to close the facility by Oct. 1, following changes to federal law that discourage use of congregate care facilities for foster children, favoring 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.

The board motion also called for county staff to work with officials, students and academy alumni and others involved in foster care to restructure the site so it can continue to provide services to foster youth, along with other at-risk children and teens.

Supporters of the school had originally called on the county to request a waiver from state and federal regulators that would allow the school to remain open in its current format. Shane Harris, government liaison for the school, said the county should also ask the state to permit the academy to accept new foster teens who would be seniors next year.

“It is a village, and it takes a village to raise children,” Harris said. “Youth need a place to go, and SPA provides opportunity for those who don’t get into a foster home.”

Supervisor Jim Desmond originally introduced a motion calling for a “carve-out” within foster care regulations that would recognize the unique model of San Pasqual Academy and permit its continued operation.

“I appreciate the movement of placing foster children with a family. However, for some that opportunity isn’t always a reality or the best reality,” Desmond said Tuesday. “So I just want to keep this tool in the toolbox.”

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer warned that the county could run out of time to pursue other uses for the site if it focuses exclusively on preserving its current program.

“It’s very clear that we’re stuck,” she said. “The path forward needs to work together as a community to identify how we can keep San Pasqual Academy together in a different capacity, in a different format, in compliance with state and federal law.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher introduced a substitute motion to direct the county administrative officer to work with stakeholders to restructure the school to serve foster youth in San Diego County, to identify ways to continue to serve alumni of the academy, and to enter into the agreement with the state for the extension.

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