Parents share concern over Sequoia plan

SIGNAL FILE PHOTO: Sequoia School 2020 Graduate Jason Eskildsen walks the campus's drive-thru graduation ceremony Monday morning in Central Park. June 01, 2020. Bobby Block / The Signal.

The William S. Hart Union High School District discussed the move of Sequoia School during its board meeting Wednesday. District staff contend their plan is a feasible one, while the families of Sequoia students continue to voice objections to the decision. 

Included in the discussion was the unveiling of plans for a “school-within-a-school,” giving Sequoia, which is likely to move to Castaic High School, a dedicated building, alternate bell schedule and separate entrance gate. 

Earlier this summer, Sequoia School parents learned that their children’s school, which is currently located on an isolated campus on Centre Pointe Parkway, would be moving to Castaic High. Sequoia School has in years past been held on a campus with 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.

Parents who voiced their concerns about the shift said 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. 

Superintendent Mike Kuhlman said during the meeting that the district would not be moving forward with the decision if it was not in the best interest of students and parents. Kathy Hunter, assistant superintendent of educational services for the district, said the move of Sequoia had been discussed for a few years. 

“We’ve never had the opportunity because we haven’t had a building that would be able to provide everything that Sequoia needs to be able to have that safety, security, have all their program components continue to stay in place while at the same time being able to locate as a school within a school,” Hunter said during her presentation on Wednesday. 

She said that because Castaic has the facilities available currently, with Castaic only having two grades on its campus, it was deemed suitable for the Sequoia move.

In addition to the separate space, schedule and entrance, Hunter said the Sequoia School would have a therapeutic area, support for students, access to larger academic and social opportunities, support for the Individualized Education Program transition, and teachers would have better collaboration with their peers. 

“No. 1 here, for us, is an absolutely dedicated building with no other students in it; only Sequoia classes and Sequoia students, which we were able to accommodate,” said Hunter, adding that the district will also be able to provide the “least-restrictive environment” provided at the current Sequoia campus. She emphasized that all opportunities offered to students, such as possibly attending a dance or brunch with the general student population, will be available to them “if they want to.”   

“There will be no forcing any of that,” Hunter said. “It will be when students are ready.” 

Melanie Hagman, the principal of Castaic High, said the move would provide students with more resources than the original Sequoia campus had, including more counseling, career technical education, extracurriculars, additional campus supervisors and administrative support.

Parents & Students 

Despite the district’s assurances about the plan, some parents remain critical of the move from the small-campus environment for their emotionally disturbed classified students to a comprehensive campus. 

Dana Bradford, a parent of a Sequoia student, said two of her chief concerns are the ostracization of her child on the Castaic campus by the general population, and the amount of areas that will be made available to students to self-harm. 

“How are they going to keep the kids safe from an unlocked bathroom? We have kids that cut themselves,” said Bradford. “We had one bathroom at Sequoia, and we still had problems there.” 

During the district meeting, Hunter responded to a question from board members asking if the Sequoia campus would have a fence put around it, to which Hunter said “no” because the goal is to make Sequoia students feel a part of Castaic High. 

Bradford said parents were told kids will be walked to the bathroom on the Castaic campus, but she thought that could lead to more problems. 

“So you’re going to walk 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds to the bathroom, and nobody’s going to make fun of that?” said Bradford. “The first thing my kid said when we went on a tour, ‘Where am I going to ‘take five’ (a break)? Everybody is going to stare at me.’” 

Cheryl Smith, another Sequoia parent, expressed in a previous Signal interview that her daughter had gone to Saugus High School for only an hour a week last year, but even that induced anxiety and fear within her daughter. 

Bradford said she was not buying into the inclusion model being propagated by the district. 

“They can believe what they want, but kids are mean and they’re going to find ways to be horrible, whether the school wants them to or not,” said Bradford. 

She added that some parents within the Sequoia family are now having to choose between the new campus, or sending their child to a residential treatment center, where they have the support they need, but live away from their home, family and friends.

“My kid doesn’t want that, but we don’t know if that’s going to have to be an option for him, because he can’t go to a big school like that.”

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