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Back to school for Southwest Florida students

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Teachers, students, parents—the day is here: Southwest Florida is headed back to school.

With all the hustle and bustle of getting children to and from school, district administrators say they are making student safety a primary concern.

“We’re doing a great job of making sure that anybody who tried to access a school building is cleared,” said Dr. Christopher Bernier, superintendent of the School District of Lee County. “My day ends with kindergarten release, so I’m looking forward to seeing these bus drivers—it’s just a few hours, I know it’s gonna be a long day—but just a few hours from now, seeing them release the kids and be a part of taking the kids home safely.”

Traffic was particularly intense on Wednesday morning, with cars and buses lining up for miles throughout Southwest Florida as children were dropped off for the first day of the 2022-2023 school year. Some were certain to miss the first bell, the way the roads were congested.

A few things for Collier County parents to remember: The federal government allowed school districts to offer free lunch meals to all students during the pandemic, but those benefits will end this school year. Tuesday was the deadline for Collier County parents to apply for free school lunch for their students. Also, all K-12 students will be provided with a laptop to use for the 2022-2023 school year.

If your child rides the bus in Collier County, district officials are encouraging parents to download the WheresTheBus mobile app, which will let you know the location of your child’s bus and when it will arrive. The bus driver shortage has proven less of a problem in Collier County, where more kids walk or bike to school, than it is in Lee County.

The Collier County Sheriff’s Office is making sure it is prepared for the school year by practicing and training as the nation continues to see mass shootings. Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk says keeping schools safe is a team effort. CCSO’s threat management program helps identify, prevent, intervene in and investigate potential threats with the help of traffic intersection cameras, advanced technology and deputies in the field.

Rambosk says the best thing to do to prevent a potential threat is to report anything suspicious—”See something, say something.”

“We need people to let us know when they observe a behavior they think is not safe and think it needs to be investigated,” Rambosk said. “We are gonna do that and we’re expanding our program not to just be involved in school safety but bring it community-wide, and we need the community’s help to continue to make this the safest community in the United States.”