District goal is to open schools Oct. 17 | News, Sports, Jobs



Lee County Superintendent Dr. Christopher Bernier announced at an afternoon press conference Friday that the district’s goal is to return to an educational environment on Monday, Oct. 17.

“Unfortunately, I must report that schools will remain closed. Certified inspectors have assessed our buildings and special centers,” he said. “The majority of our schools are considered what is called a low-needs environment. This means that they need very little more to open.

The reason schools will remain closed this coming week is that the district still has significant and disproportionate challenges to overcome as not all buildings in the district were impacted equally by the storm. There are at least eight schools without electricity.

“Some schools, most schools, don’t have proper drinking water. Most of our schools remain under boil water advisories. We continue to have security and debris issues, which will impact the safe pickup and delivery of our students to and from our schools,” Bernier said. “We need to reopen in a way that is safe for our students and staff and responsive to their needs, yet efficient enough to be able to deliver the teaching and learning we expect.”

Some schools remain in the high needs category with significant damage, with some requiring time for repairs and others taking longer to rebuild.

The list of schools not ready to open includes Fort Myers Beach Elementary, Hector Cafferata Elementary School, Heights Elementary School, Pine Island Elementary School, Skyline Elementary School, Caloosa Middle School, Cypress Lake Middle School, Diplomat Middle School, Gulf Middle School, Lexington Middle School, Mariner Middle School, Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School, Trafalgar Middle School, The Sanibel School, North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts, North Fort Myers High School, Fort Myers Tech Center, and Success Academy.

Bernier said he has plans in place for schools that are unable to reopen to ensure an educational environment for these children. He said they will do their best to keep these learning communities, these students, teachers and principals together in the process.

“There could be the possibility of double sessions based on the buildings we have ready to go”, Bernier said.

On Friday, the calendar has not been revised to show the days students missed because they do not have an official reopening date. When this date is finalized, they will work with the Ministry of Education and the unions to ensure that they revise their timetables.

The community, he said, rebounded nine days after the hurricane, but it’s just not ready to reopen next week. Over the coming week, debris will continue to be cleared, power will be restored, drinking water will be back in school buildings, as well as a further assessment of staff’s ability to return to work. .

“My academic team, my cabinet and my board members are committed to developing a plan and reviewing plans to return all of our students, regardless of the status of our school buildings, to an educational environment. There are still many factors that I mentioned earlier that need to be overcome,” Bernier said.

Teachers must be given the opportunity to return to school buildings, scheduled for Thursday, October 13. Bernier said it will start with a reunification of staff and support to help them through the transition. He said depending on where families live and what school their child attends, their return and how the district plays out will reflect inappropriate challenges.

“Their response and the response of our support professionals will provide another critical determining factor in reopening,” he said. “It’s our staff, our support professionals and the willingness of teachers to come back. We cannot ignore that this storm has affected us all.

Bernier said he realizes that all students, just like staff, may not return.

“As a district, we will remain flexible with our parents and students during this time, just as we will remain flexible with staff,” he said. “When we return to an educational environment, we will be and have the opportunity to provide our students with the learning they need.”

The return will also depend on the staff, as the district also wants to be sensitive to their needs.

“We have staff who have been affected by the complete loss of their homes, flooding, all of their belongings. We continue to work with what we call the coalition of the will.

On October 5, the district surveyed its staff, including support professionals and teachers, who revealed that 65% of middle and elementary schools are already in the position where they believe they can return.

“We have also seen a number approaching 65% with our high school students”, Bernier said. “It was October 5 and it was a staff recording.”

On October 13, staff will have the opportunity to meet and those who do not have a school building will be offered an alternative location.

“We understand that there are a lot of displaced people in the community. We also know that there are many people who have lost their jobs. Our human resources department is ready, willing and able. We have great jobs here in Lee County,” Bernier said.

On Wednesday, October 12, the school board discussed an updated reopening plan.

“Nine days ago, Hurricane Ian made direct landfall in Lee County. The impact of the storm was historic and disproportionate to this large Southwest Florida community. People lost lives, their homes and much, if not all, of their personal belongings. None of us were spared by this hurricane. Citizens, community members, support professionals, teachers, this hurricane has affected us all,” Bernier said. “As a community, we have all been affected.”

He went on to say that in the wake of the devastation, they knew Lee County would rebuild and recover.

“We all love this community and we will take back what this storm tried to take from us,” Bernier said.

The school district closed all of its schools before Hurricane Ian swept through the area, as a safety measure for children and staff, as well as to provide the option of opening 12 campuses as shelters.

“We are grateful to the Lee County EOC team for asking us to intervene in this process and provide food, water, supplies and support. We continue to do so today. We have had food drives, food distribution sites and we will continue to support this community in any way we can,” Bernier said.

Since the landfall of Hurricane Ian, the school district has kept schools closed due to the need for shelter support and storm damage and associated safety risks.

“We have worked in partnership over the past nine days with the Governor’s Office, Florida Department of Education, Lee County Emergency Operations Center and our community partners to help heal and to recover from the store and begin the process of reopening our schools,” Bernier said.

As a new resident of Lee County, he said he and his family were proud to see how the community responded to such a devastating event. Bernier said he was equally proud of how their employees — teachers, administrators, support professionals and all staff — responded as well.

“I must thank the members of the EOC Command Team, the Florida Department of Education, and all of my colleagues in all 66 school districts in the state of Florida,” Bernier said. “All responded and offered their support. They have shared plans, knowledge and staff to help us. We are forever and we will be eternally grateful.


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