Saving San Pasqual

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Shane Harris A SPA Success Story Steps In

When you first arrive, you get a larger-than-life feeling, maybe it’s the mountain air or the open sky, but to me, it’s the best idea San Diego County EVER had. Any educational institution that serves in a supportive role as San Pasqual, it’s worth keeping, and frankly, I believe we need more of SPA’s.

Shane Harris; himself a SPA alumnus, Just one of the wonderful human beings San Pasqual has molded. Shane’s commitment is not only to be the best human being he can but to be a community partner as well. He credits SPA for being one of those reasons for his transformation.

“SPA being in jeopardy is counterproductive Shane Harris says.” Harris goes on to say, “Disrupting successful and model institutions just doesn’t make sense.” SPA is the epitome of putting our money where our mouth is. “We never know where our next president or mayor is coming from, the goal here, is to furnish opportunity and support and most of all saving young people’s futures, says Harris.”

For over 20 years, San Pasqual Academy has been a home and a haven to many of San Diego’s most vulnerable foster youth. The North County campus, which was the first-in-the-nation residential educational home for dependents of Juvenile Court, received word on February 19, 2021, that the State of California was seeking to end the program. With the announcement of the closure by the State of California, the County of San Diego has been left with the task of locating homes for many foster kids who are already struggling to find a permanent placement. Shane Harris, a former student of the Academy and a nationally recognized civil rights activist managed to bring together a wide consensus of stakeholders, alumni, and current students to lead advocacy efforts among local and state government leaders in seeking an extension through June 2022 for the Academy.

Harris issued various letters to local and state officials within days of the closure announcement. Students who live on the campus did not find out from the county but from a San Diego Union-Tribune February 21st story that they would lose their home. The county found out February 6th but was late in informing campus officials of the letter they received from the state seeking to close the Academy. Shane Harris and other former students and leaders urged the county to keep San Pasqual Academy open and have worked with them since then to seek a solution among all parties. Harris grew up in San Diego’s child welfare system for 13 years after the losses of his parents and he was a student at San Pasqual Academy for over two years following being taken out of a foster home at age 15 because of negligence and abuse in the home.

The county of San Diego was not able to retain a foster home for him and San Pasqual Academy was the only place to go at the moment. Now as a nationally recognized activist and civic leader Harris has made it much of his issue in leading several advocacy efforts to increase equity within the foster care system for Black and minority children who he says have been “voiceless for far too long”. March 16, 2021, after pressure from constituents across San Diego County, former students of the Academy, stakeholders, and community leaders the San Diego Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a request by County Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer to request a June 2022 extension from the State to keep SPA open through then.

The county issued a letter to state officials on March 24th requesting an extension. Since the March 16th Board of Supervisors meeting the Academy began organizing the next steps in the fight to keep it open and decided to bring Shane Harris on in an official capacity as Government Affairs Liaison to spearhead the Academy’s legislative and policy efforts and work across multiple lines with stakeholders, former students, and Academy leadership. His first order of business as the Academy’s Government Affairs Liaison will be to bring his advocacy efforts to the California Department of Social Services Director Kimberley Johnson in asking her once again to grant the Academy a closure extension through June 2022 and to support the San Diego Board of Supervisors March 24th letter requesting the extension as well. 

Shane Harris will continue leading his nonprofit civil rights organization the People’s Association of Justice Advocates as well as all of his other commitments as he takes this new role. 
Tia Moore, San Pasqual Academy’s Administrator shared the following statement on the appointment: “The San Pasqual Academy administration is delighted to welcome Shane Harris to the San Pasqual team. Mr. Harris will utilize his personal and professional experience to be the liaison between elected state and county officials. Academy Director Tia Moore and Mr. Harris will be working collaboratively to ensure elected state and county officials in child welfare to hear the voices of our foster youth. Our goal is to ensure these youth continue to have a safe and stable environment to call home; a place where they are surrounded by caring individuals who meet their everyday needs”.

Shane Harris shared the following statement on his appointment: “It is an honor to return to San Pasqual Academy to lead its government affairs and to fight for its future. SPA isn’t perfect and neither is the county’s child welfare services department however the Academy played a critical role in my life. When I was 15 years old I was removed from a foster home I was in due to negligence and abuse and taken to the Academy because no foster family wanted an older foster youth at that time. SPA was my haven and became home for me at that time as it has been for hundreds to thousands of other youth in our system. It is a village and it takes a village to raise a child. Oftentimes we throw the baby out with the bathwater instead of reimagining opportunity. In my new role, I will help SPA, the community, the county, the state, and the federal government see opportunity through my eyes the eyes of someone who knows the foster care system so well. SPA is a model and has so much potential with courageous investment in the program”.

About San Pasqual Academy: 

San Pasqual Academy, a first-in-the-nation residential education campus designed specifically for foster youth, serves as a placement option for dependents of the Juvenile Court, 12-17 years old, and Non-Minor Dependents (NMDs) up to age 19 years old.  A seamless delivery of services is provided through a public-private partnership between the County of San Diego, New Alternatives, Inc., San Diego County Office of Education, and Access, Inc.

About Shane Harris: 

Shane Harris is a national civil and human rights activist, a corporate diversity consultant, foster care reformer, ordained minister and a political analyst. He is the founder of a national bi-coastal civil rights nonprofit organization called the People’s Association of Justice Advocates based in San Diego & Washington D.C. Shane is a former foster youth of San Diego County spending 13 years in the foster care system after the loss of his parents. He is a former student of SPA between the years of 2008-2010. He now returns to SPA as Government Affairs Liaison to fight for SPA’s future through the policy and legislative process with county, state and federal officials.

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