More schools are getting the go-ahead to open next week in Lee County, along with temporary campuses and hot spots to help with internet access.
That’s just some of the important information Lee County school officials discussed during a Thursday news conference.
The 13 schools that are expected to open Monday are listed below:
- Bonita Springs Elementary
- Bonita Springs Middle
- Colonial Elementary
- Diplomat Elementary
- Franklin Park Elementary
- Gulf Elementary
- Fort Myers Middle
- Orange River Elementary
- Orangewood Elementary
- Three Oaks Elementary
- Tice Elementary
- Trafalgar Elementary School
- Tropic Isles Elementary School
The district coined those schools the lucky 13.
Fifteen schools will open to students on Tuesday:
- Allen Park Elementary
- Buckingham Exceptional Center
- Cypress Lake High School
- Edison Park Elementary
- Hancock Creek Elementary
- Ida Baker High School
- J. Colin English Elementary
- James Stephens Elementary
- Littleton Elementary
- Manatee Elementary
- Pinewoods Elementary
- Royal Palm Exceptional Center
- Tanglewood Elementary
- Three Oaks Middle
- Villas Elementary
Superintendent Christopher Bernier believes another 38 schools will get the green light to open their doors on Wednesday.
Before students, teachers and staff get back to the classroom, air quality tests have to be completed in each building.
Dr. Bernier said those results are one of the biggest things they’re waiting on to get kids back in the classroom. They’re testing the air quality of every school, even if it didn’t sustain that much damage.
It’s one of the nine criteria the schools must meet before opening. The others include reliable water, power, air conditioning, functioning fire alarms and speaker systems.
Governor Ron DeSantis came to Southwest Florida on Thursday to reinforce his message that will do whatever he can to get kids back in school in a safe environment.
“Here in Lee County, under secretary Diaz’s leadership, they have worked directly with the utility companies to prioritize power restoration to the schools. They worked with the Department of Emergency Management to bring generators to the schools where those were necessary. They worked with our department of management service to provide Elon Musk’s Starlink internet for the schools. I mean, some of the internet isn’t connected yet with some of the cable companies, so you have that Starlink that can be the difference on being able to do everything. Department of Education’s also facilitated the movement of portable classrooms and classroom supplies, and, of course, our Department of Transportation has helped clear debris from bus stops, bus routes and from campuses. And, of course, they’ve done a lot more,” said DeSantis.
Once the schools get cleared to open, teachers and staff will have a reunification day, then the next day will operate like an open house for students and families. They can check out their old or new classroom and get a glimpse into the rest of the school year.
For the teachers coming back to the classroom on Monday, Thursday was about reunifying with other teachers and staff.
On Friday, parents and students will walk through the halls, unite with the teachers, and get a glimpse into how the rest of this year will look.
All teachers will have those two days before students are in their seats again. The first day in the classroom will also look a little different. The district said in a meeting Wednesday that teachers won’t jump into the lesson plan on day one.
They are taking that day to gauge how their students are doing mentally and emotionally after this traumatic storm.
Rachelle Resendes, a teacher at Gulf Elementary School said getting back on schedule means getting back to normal for everyone.
“It’s been about two weeks, and we’re looking forward to it, you know, that return to stability? I think a lot of our families need it. I know we all do. You know, it’s great to get back in here today and see everyone together again, just sharing stories and supporting one another,” said Resendes.
The biggest thing the district is waiting on to reopen additional schools is the results of the air quality tests.
Superintendent Bernier said the district is waiting on the results for 68 schools.
Of the schools that remain closed are those that suffered significant damage.
“For those of you concerned about Cafferetta’s and Sanibel’s and Fort Myers Beach, we will be building temporary campuses; we have some commitments as early as October 31 to try to get those buildings up so that we no longer have to partner those schools,” said Bernier.
Fort Myers Beach Elementary, Lexington Middle, Cypress Lakes Middle, and others all face damage.
“We have everything from just a little drip from a ceiling to all the carpets have to be removed too, you know, schools that are just not there anymore,” said Gwen Gittens, a Lee County School Board member.
The School District of Lee County is keeping kids out of certain schools to keep them safe.
“We have to make sure that every aspect of that building in that facility is safe before our teachers go in there and our students go in there,” said Debbie Jordan, a Lee County School Board member.
The damage is more than what you can see. “We’re going to run into an issue if children come back, and it’s not safe and they get sick,” said Gittens. “That’s what we’re trying to avoid that, oh, it looks good and shiny and painted. And we get people in there, and it’s like, what’s that smell? So that’s why we have to do the mitigation.”
Gittens said it’s hard to know how long inspections will take and how much they will cost.
“Someone asked me that the other day? Well, you know, how much are we going to have to spend to fix the schools? Well, we don’t know that,” Gittens said.
While crews are working to fix the damage, some students are taking matters into their own hands.
“I’m here to change my school due to my school being damaged,” said Alicia Cherenfant.
The county set up six enrollment offices where displaced families can go for help, and students can ask about enrolling in other schools or talk about online options.
Cherenfant said she is struggling with the change. “Kids, either going back online or rather, there’s going to a whole new school, which is a long process, which I’m stuck in that process. So it’s pretty hard on parents right now. And kids are stressed because they don’t want to go back online, and stuff like that. So you know, it’s so hard advice for lee county kids. And it’s pretty hard.”
Her school, Gateway Charter, is going virtual for now.