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ESCONDIDO, Calif. — For the past 20 years, San Pasqual Academy in Escondido has been a home and school for foster youth, the first of its kind in the country.

A pilot program allowing the academy to continue was set to expire at the end of this year, but last week, students and staff were shocked to learn the state plans to end the program by October.

A letter from the state cited a decline in enrollment and laws which aim to put foster kids with families instead of congregated care programs. Around 70 kids currently live at the academy.

Academy Director Tia Moore says news of a closure is heartbreaking for their community.

“They’re traumatized, they’re angry,” Moore said. “It’s difficult for us because we have a rapport. They’ve developed a trust – that trust is broken. We’ve had kids tell us, ‘Why should we listen to you guys? You’re not going to be here, we’re not going to be here.'”

Natasha Strain says she was abused by her adoptive parents before she arrived at San Pasqual Academy. She graduated in 2005 – then got a college degree and now works at the academy.

“I walked into the academy a lost, angry child and I walked out a strong woman,” Strain said Thursday, at an event calling for the extension of the program.

Local activist Shane Harris, a former student at the academy, says county leaders claimed they were powerless to stop a closure. But he claims that after contacting the governor’s office, he learned the county wasn’t fighting to keep the campus open.

“I call on the supervisors and I ask you to have a heart of sympathy and empathy – and take responsibility and let’s move this forward,” Harris said, also speaking at the event.

Harris says county supervisors can make a difference when a board letter is presented at next week’s board of supervisors meeting – requesting from the state an extension for the academy through June 2022.