Rainey Butler was in the middle of taking down her Christmas tree on Sunday when she checked her email and learned she had a week to find her 2-year-old son a new school.
West Pioneer Academy in Citrus Heights would not reopen after Christmas break, said the email.
“I’m very thankful my son is younger and it’s a lot easier to find someplace for him,” Butler said. Other families in the K-12 school, many with special needs children, could face more difficulty.
Butler said the email cited financial reasons for the private school’s closure and promised to reimburse families who had paid in advance. It asked families to arrange to pick up their children’s belongings by Monday, she said.
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The owner of West Pioneer Academy, Theresa Del Biaggio 40, didn’t return phone calls and emails Wednesday. A message on the school website announced the closure and thanked families, staff and the community for their support.
“It has been a great honor providing an academically enriching and loving school environment for our students,” read the message.
The school, which opened in 2012, sits behind a white picket fence at 7723 Old Auburn Road. It has two potbellied pigs, a rabbit, chickens and goats, said parent Melissa Eaker.
West Pioneer Academy also had about 45 students, half with special needs in preschool through eighth grade, Eaker said. That’s a considerable drop from the 62 students in kindergarten through 12th grade reported to the California Department of Education in 2014-15, the most recent year data are available.
Eaker said she and other parents are angry that Del Biaggio, who bills herself as a special-education advocate, would close the school with so many special needs children so abruptly. Some want to sue, she said.
“I don’t know why she didn’t raise tuition,” Eaker said of the $560 monthly fee.
The Butler family was happy with the school, which offered advanced curriculum for preschoolers and charged less for preschool and than other schools, Butler said. “This was the first day care or school he didn’t want to come home after,” she said.
Eaker said the small class sizes, usually 10 per class, were ideal for special needs students like her 10-year-old son, who has high-functioning autism.
Parents are meeting this week to share leads on new schools or to talk about homeschooling their children.
Butler, 20, said she feels lucky to have a day off of work this week so she can look for a new school for her toddler. “I’m thankful my son isn’t in (elementary) school, or otherwise I wouldn’t be able to get a hold of anybody,” she said.
Schools in San Juan Unified, which operates public schools in the area, will be closed until Tuesday. But the district’s enrollment center at 3700 Garfield Ave. will open at 8 a.m. Monday. Alerted to the closure by local media, San Juan is expecting West Pioneer Academy families, said Trent Allen, district spokesman.
“We can probably find everybody someplace to go, hopefully where they (would) like to go,” he said.
To enroll, families should bring proof of residency, like a mortgage payment, rental lease or utility bill; the child’s immunization record; transcripts; and a copy of the student’s Individualized Education Plan, if the child is receiving special education services.
Parents say that the school’s six teachers and one clerk also were alerted to the school’s closure on Sunday. Just a few weeks ago, the school posted job openings for a clerk, preschool teacher and substitutes on LinkedIn. A posting 95 days ago sought an agriculture teacher.
Link to YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYQAivkmDmU