More portables classrooms in Lehigh Acres shows disparity in Lee County school district

Reporter: Peter Fleischer
Published: Updated:
Portable classrooms (CREDIT: WINK News)

One of the main reasons behind a new school in the works is need.

Some elected officials say Estero is too crowded and requires a new facility, but a WINK News investigation has exposed an inequality in where some students are learning.

The investigation revealed the majority of portable learning units are in the east zone of the Lee County School District, which takes up primarily Lehigh Acres.

“They have fun and everything inside. I’ve been in the portables and it’s the same as going to a regular classroom,” said Maria Ecsobedo, a Lee County schools parent.

Lee County School Board member Gwyn Gittens said the portables were supposed to be a temporary situation.

“A fix,” Gittens said, “which is fine.”

But where her concern grows is over the disproportionate number of portables in the east zone, which she represents.

“In my mind, it was never meant to be a permanent solution,” Gittens said. “We’ve got all these portables over here because we didn’t have the money, so don’t we need to start over here?”

WINK News asked the school district for a breakdown on the number of portables and which schools use them back on Oct. 13.

Instead of providing the records, they sent WINK News to a meeting where the information was never discussed.

Meanwhile, the Lee County School District has not fulfilled the original public records request.

Instead, the records were provided by a Lee County School District source.

The records show 13 schools use a total of 107 portables for classrooms.

The majority, 89 portable classrooms, are in the east zone. There are four portable classrooms in the west zone and 14 in the south zone.

Gittens read the breakdown.

“Frustration is putting it mildly,” Gittens said. “The little bit of hair I have left, I’m ready to pull it out.”

Eighteen of the 89 portables in the east zone are close or more than 20 years old.

Nevin Sutcliffe’s children learned in portables while attending Lee schools.

Now his grandson is learning in one, too.

“He’d be in the same portables over there when we used to live on Third Street 20 years ago,” Sutcliffe said.

At the same time, the debate about the new Lee County school set to be built in Estero rages on.

“When you see one particular area that has a plethora of those students that are not getting what they need and prioritizing the resources, that’s an issue,” Gittens said.

The creation of the new Lehigh Acres Middle School shows the district will invest in the east zone and the district has committed to more projects in the future.

But skeptics said it’s hard to accept words over actions.

“I’m tired of hearing them every year saying this is what Lehigh is going to get,” Sutcliffe said.

Gittens said she understands how expensive new schools are but she would love to see current schools expanded in the east zone at a lower cost.

“When I see construction, when I see the crews going in then I’ll believe that you’re listening,” Gittens said.

WINK News reached out to Lee schools about our unfilled public records request and concerns about portables.

The Lee County school district said they are still working on the request, but released a statement on the concerns of the number of portables in the east district.

“Recognizing the growth in Lehigh Acres we have or currently plan to build seven new schools, add space at and renovate four schools, and open two new Pre-K Centers. The new schools alone add more than 8,000 student stations in the East Zone. The sales tax is a large reason why this is now possible and we thank the community for their trust and support.”

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