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R.H. Dana Exceptional Needs Facility unveils new fish tank two years after vandals destroyed a beloved student aquarium

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By Andrea Swayne

Students at a school for children with special needs gathered with teachers and staff Friday to celebrate the addition of a new fish tank.

Two years after vandals broke into the R.H. Dana Exceptional Needs Facility in Dana Point and smashed the school’s fish tank, leaving the children’s pet fish to perish on the floor, Principal Judy Dore gathered students, staff and PTA members for the occasion.

Dore stood before the assembled crowd and said a few words, tearing up as she recalled arriving on October 4, 2011 to find destruction left by those who broke in through skylights.

Angel Garcia checks out the new fish tank at R.H. Dana Exceptional Needs Facility and gets acquainted by feeding the fish. Photo by Andrea Swayne
Angel Garcia checks out the new fish tank at R.H. Dana Exceptional Needs Facility. Photo by Andrea Swayne

The intruders discharged fire extinguishers and smashed their way through the school leaving behind a large mess, including glass from computer screens, windows and the tank, strewn everywhere. Children’s wheelchairs and crutches were scattered throughout the building and the therapy pool was full of debris. The vandals were never caught.

As Dore pushed away a folding screen hiding the tank, the room erupted in applause. The children took turns, by classroom, having their photos taken in front of the tank. The PTA board raised money for the new aquarium this fall via a single fundraiser.

“Replacing the tank is meaningful on so many levels. The children looked forward to seeing the fish. It was part of their day as they walked into school and not having it here for two years was devastating, said PTA President Mikail Roling. “We feel so grateful to all the parents and all the support to have an aquarium back here where it belongs.”

Roling and Dore both extended special thanks to PTA board member Rachel Sutherland, who spearheaded the fundraising program, and to Bill DePriest, brother of board member Dawniel Boocly, who installed the tank.

“Today there was joy and excitement, when two years ago we were feeling devastation, sadness and disappointment,” Dore said. “This doesn’t bring closure to what happened but it has helped us heal.”

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