San Pasqual Academy Residents, Alumni & Staff Sue California for Trying to Shut it Down

San Pasqual Academy Residents, Alumni & Staff Sue California for Trying to Shut it Down
Attorneys at LiMandri & Jonna LLP Working to Save Highly Successful Foster Care Program

View the Complaint here.

Contact: Tom Ciesielka, 312.422.1333,

(August 3, 2021 – Escondido, CA) San Pasqual Academy stakeholders—residents, alumni, and staff—have sued the County of San Diego Health & Human Services Agency and the California Department of Social Services for trying to unlawfully shut down the nationally preeminent boarding school for high-school foster youth. San Pasqual Academy is a highly successful foster care program in Escondido, California, long relied on by the County for quality placements.

Throughout its two decades of serving San Diego County as a foster placement assignment of choice, San Pasqual Academy has been improving the lives of the youth placed there. For example, the average graduation rate for all youth is recorded as 79% and for foster youth it’s only 45%. By contrast, youth attending the San Pasqual Academy have achieved a 92% graduation rate for those in the program through their 18th birthday.

Dr. Gail Goodman, psychologist and Director of the Center for Public Policy Research at UC Davis, conducted a 10-year study of San Pasqual Academy resulting in a 2013 report lauding the residential campus as “a promising model for emerging adults in foster care.” In 2020 and 2021, Goodman led a follow up 20-year study of San Pasqual Academy, its alumni outcomes, and current residents, tentatively titled “A Place to Call Home.”

Goodman reports that the results of both studies, “provide ample support for the conclusion that San Pasqual Academy’s residential program for foster youth is a preeminent program providing the best care possible for the population served.”

The lawsuit against the social services departments of California and San Diego County, filed by LiMandri & Jonna attorneys, claims the action to shut down San Pasqual Academy, is a violation of Equal Protection Guarantees of the California Constitution and of the Foster Youth Bill of Rights. The suit also alleges that California’s Continuum of Care Reform Act, passed in 2015, mandates that San Diego and California continue operations at San Pasqual Academy. That legislation abolishes the use of group homes for foster youth in many cases, but it contains a specific exemption and mandate for the continued operation of San Pasqual Academy as a lawful and appropriate placement for foster youth.

Charles LiMandri, partner at LiMandri & Jonna, explained the circumstances surrounding the lawsuit.

“This is a challenge to the California Department of Social Services’ decision to ignore California law and refuse a license and funding for the operation of San Pasqual Academy in Escondido, California,” stated LiMandri. “This decision appears to be nothing more than bureaucracy run amok because San Pasqual Academy has no equal—there is literally no program like it in the nation. Because the Academy does not fit into bureaucrats’ narrow idea of what a foster placement should be, the California Department of Social Services has decided to write it off and has directed San Diego County to find placements for nearly a hundred foster youth and young adults who call San Pasqual Academy their home.”

San Pasqual Academy was founded in 2001, when local philanthropists and nonprofits teamed up with the County of San Diego to purchase a former private boarding school, tear down its dormitories, and convert it into a first-of-its-kind home for foster youth. Now, San Pasqual Academy is a first-of-its-kind comprehensive residential educational program for youth in the foster care system that has the statistically best results for such youth across all measurable categories.

The Academy provides small group cottages for foster youth, with 24-hour parental supervision, and an on-site high school licensed for up to 184 students. In addition to housing and schooling, San Pasqual Academy and its many donors provide a work readiness and self-sufficiency program, and access to on-site social workers. In line with California and federal law emphasizing the need to help foster youth in the transition to adulthood, the Academy also welcomes back alumni to live on the Academy campus at reduced rent. The Academy also provides reduced rent housing for seniors (affectionately called “grandparents”) who agree—along with the alumni—to create a mentor “village” for the foster youth.

The residents, alumni, and staff of San Pasqual Academy are asking the court to order California’s Department of Social Services to continue licensing and funding San Pasqual Academy as a home for foster youth.

“Without this judicial relief,” shared Paul Jonna, LiMandri & Jonna partner, “Hundreds of academy residents and alumni, who sought out San Pasqual as a permanent placement after being shuttled through an average of eight previous foster placements, will be forced again to find a new place to call home. Such a result is not just morally reprehensible, it is unlawful.”

One of the individuals fighting to save San Pasqual Academy is Natasha Strain, who currently works at San Pasqual Academy as a childcare worker and supervisor.

“I owe everything to San Pasqual Academy,” declares Strain, a former resident and 2005 alumna of the Academy. “Surviving in the foster care system is hard. San Pasqual helped me to succeed against the odds. San Pasqual Academy continually beats the odds and break cycles.”

Strain obtained her Bachelor of Arts in social work from Cal State San Marcos after graduating from the academy. She returned to work at San Pasqual Academy in order “to help other young people succeed and thrive in the same environment that made such positive changes in my own life.”

Cecilia Blea graduated from San Pasqual Academy in 2006 and went on to obtain her Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts. “San Pasqual Academy made a huge difference in my life and has been a tremendous asset to me and my four children,” remarked Blea.

In 2019, Blea and her children returned to San Pasqual Academy to participate in the alumni housing program. With the help of San Pasqual Academy, in 2021 she obtained her B.A. in Psychology. “Without San Pasqual Academy, it is unlikely I would have ever achieved a college degree,” shared Blea. “The academy’s caring and nurturing environment allowed me to succeed, and my children are blessed to experience that same healthy environment. I am so grateful to be able to give back to San Pasqual Academy during our time here. If that is taken away from us—and all the others who have benefitted from this program—that would be devastating.”

“It’s particularly offensive that the County of San Diego has not stepped up to defend and save this extraordinary community asset,” added LiMandri. “At San Pasqual’s 2019 graduation, San Diego County’s Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher promised the youth, ‘I have your backs.’ For the academy’s students, finally in a safe place after repeated misfires in the foster system, Fletcher’s abrupt change of heart is heartbreaking.”

“When a child is placed at San Pasqual Academy,” Jonna observed, “A child is given hope and a plan for his or her future. The track record proves that San Pasqual has raised and is raising youth in an environment that produces reliable, upstanding citizens, disposed to make positive differences in their communities. When the students of San Pasqual Academy first learned that the county and state planned to shut down and dismantle their home—by reading the story in the San Diego Union Tribune, nobody even bothered to tell them—they published an open letter to state and county officials, pleading to keep their home open. It is outrageous that the State of California and San Diego County would be so ignorant and heartless as to shut it down, and with no concern for the law.”

Read the Verified Petition for Writ of Mandate and Complaint filed by LiMandri & Jonna LLP, with the Superior Court of the State of California County of San Diego – North County Division on August 3, 2021, in Natasha Strain et al. v. Kimberly Johnson, Director of the California Department of Social Services et al. here.


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