San Diego County supervisors unanimously approved a proposal to "reimagine and restructure'' the Escondido-based San Pasqual Academy, which educates and houses foster youth, in a manner consistent with state and federal law.
Supervisors also directed Helen Robbins Meyer, county chief administrative officer, to work with stakeholders to ensure that SPA also serves young people with different needs, to look at ways to serve alumni and explore the possibility of transitional housing, and enter into agreement with the state for an extension until June 2022 that also allows for a transition.
The academy is slated to close in October due to declining enrollment. State and federal law changes regarding foster care will also end funding to SPA, described by county officials as a first-in-the-nation residential campus designed specifically for foster youth.
Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher suggested the changes, saying a restructure was necessary for San Pasqual to stay open.
"Our commitment to the youth in our county compels us to find creative and new ways to best meet the needs of our most vulnerable,'' Fletcher said after the meeting adjourned. "While the model will change, our commitment to our youth and services at this location remains the same.''
Fletcher said the board needed to look at all options under state and federal law. SPA can continue to be a place that serves our youth, he said, but it's going to be different.
It cannot remain as is. If we get focused on that, there's gonna be a lot of good things we can do.''
Supervisor Jim Desmond originally proposed requesting an extension for the academy, but withdrew that after Fletcher put his suggestion forward.
Despite a difference of opinion over the academy's long-term future, the topic has "sparked a lot of passion and energy,'' Desmond added. "We all agree we've got something really good here. This is a jewel of San Diego County. I hated giving up on it altogether.''
Desmond said while he strongly supports SPA's existing program, he also understands that the state won't allow that.
In March, supervisors had unanimously agreed to ask the state Department of Social Services to extend the academy's operations.
Before the supervisors voted Tuesday, they heard from academy supporters.
Andrea Reynolds, a member of Friends of San Pasqual Academy, reminded supervisors that by the time a foster child comes to SPA, he or she has "been through horrific circumstances,'' including homelessness.
Many are traumatized, angry and in pain, and need more care than a typical foster family can provide, she said.
"At SPA, the teens can heal among their peers,'' Reynolds added. "You cannot recreate this sense of community.''
Tuesday's meeting was the first in over a year that featured limited in-person attendance. Previously, board meetings were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Along with high-level county staffers, Fletcher and fellow Supervisors Terra Lawson Remer and Nora Vargas were seated in the chambers of the county Administration Building, located on Pacific Highway.
Joel Anderson and Desmond participated via teleconference.