Hart District likely to proceed with Sequoia move; parents express concerns

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While William S. Hart Union High School District officials have said they’re likely to move forward with the plan, a number of parents from the small, yet niche Sequoia School expressed concerns over the district’s plan to move the campus to Castaic High School.

Sequoia, which is presently located on Centre Pointe Parkway, is a campus of only a few dozen students, but it provides academic, behavioral and therapeutic support for those students within the district who have social and emotional struggles.

The district in recent weeks has mulled the decision to move the students and the campus to Castaic High School, citing the need to expand other programs within the district to Sequoia’s small campus.

“It’s a shuffle for space, and there’s no political overtones or undertones or anything else,” said Hart District governing board President Linda Storli. District officials also said the move lets students interact with general education students on a comprehensive campus, if they want to.

“It is our position that we are going forward with the Sequoia move; yet, it is not set in stone until it’s done,” said Storli.

Parents who have voiced their concerns about the shift have said that their students are at Sequoia specifically because a comprehensive campus causes them anxiety, while Sequoia’s intimate campus does not lead to these types of triggers.

Cheryl Smith has a daughter who’s a 10th-grader at Sequoia, and who before that had been in a residential treatment center. Last year, for one hour a week, she would attend an hour of therapy at Saugus High School.

“Even though it was just an hour on campus, she and I would walk through the campus and she would cling to me,” said Smith.

However, Sequoia, according to Smith, allowed her daughter to be able to interact with people in a non-restrictive environment.

“That campus offers the students inclusion and understanding and privacy,” said Smith. “Not to be looked at as different, or an outcast.”

Additionally, the parents have said the staff at Sequoia understood their children, and while some staff are making the move to Castaic, some are not. Additionally, the parents say, the Sequoia had practices such as “soft lockdowns,” where a student experiencing an episode can have one in privacy and with no judgement from the other students. The Sequoia parents do not believe that the same treatment will be given to students at Castaic High.

Storli said the board understood the concerns of the parents and their attachment to the Sequoia campus due to a number of the students having issues with crowds. Storli said she was looking at allowing the Sequoia students to enter through another entrance than the main entrance at Castaic.

However, a number of parents, even those who have had students already graduated are asking the district for a more isolated experience should Sequoia move to Castaic’s campus.

“Because Sequoia is a school for some of our most fragile youth, they need a small campus of their own,” said Danae Esildsen, a parent whose son graduated from Sequoia in 2020. “Being on a large high school campus is a trigger for these special needs kids. One of the reasons they are referred to Sequoia is because most cannot tolerate a large campus.”

Storli said the board is continuing to look at its options when it comes to incorporating Sequoia into Castaic.

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