Parents fight for future of Fort Myers Beach Elementary School

Published: January 24, 2023 9:37 AM EST

 

Passionate parents want Fort Myers Beach Elementary to stay on the island, and they plan to say so at Tuesday night’s Lee County School Board meeting and beyond.

Hurricane Ian severely damaged the beloved school, but parents have rallied together with demands to preserve the future of the school. The School District of Lee County has given no definite answers, but the next school board meeting will provide an opportunity to discuss Fort Myers beach Elementary’s recovery from the storm.

“Our school is part of our community,” said parent John Koss. “It’s not just a normal school. It’s really the heartbeat of our community, so it’s a big drive by us to make sure that this happens.”

Parents are frustrated that the school still sits with boarded-up windows, knocked-down gates and debris spread across the property. Nearly four months after Ian wreaked havoc on the school, there has still been no word on when parents will be able to send their children back to Fort Myers Beach Elementary. Angry parents have already brought it up during school board meetings.

Fort Myers Beach Elementary is the smallest school in the district and enrollment is expected to drop, but that has not stopped parents from demanding answers as to when it will reopen or when a recovery process will officially begin. During the last meeting in December, board members debated four options:

  • Option A: Students get relocated to neighboring schools while the school board considers reopening if enrollment increases.
  • Option B: Portables are placed at Fort Myers Beach Elementary for classrooms, administrative offices and a cafeteria, in hopes the historic building I ready for use in the fall of 2023.
  • Option C: A new elevated building is added to accommodate 150 K-5 students.
  • Option D: The property is sold, and students are relocated to neighboring schools.

The school board was unwilling to make a commitment at the time, but parents made it clear that they wanted the option that would see the school rebuilt. Many comments were offered at December’s meeting:

“I know that for me, as a parent right now, I need a temporary solution to come onboard as soon as possible to get my child back in his school with his friends, so I can get his life back to normalcy,” Koss said.

“We all have smiles on our faces because we’re brave and strong for the students,” said Fort Myers Beach Elementary School teacher Lori Zamniak. “But deep down and behind that smile is worry. Worry that not only have they lost everything—their houses, their toys, their rooms, their classroom—that now they’re going to lose their school, too, and that is the big fear of every single one of us.”

“One of the reasons we came back to the beach and have stayed on the beach is so that our daughter could attend Fort Myers Beach Elementary,” said Ashley Bowers, another local parent. “My husband grew up on the beach and also attended, and we really wanted her to have a quality education in a small community. And we knew that she would get that there. And so, for us, the school is essential for us to stay and live on the beach.”

Tuesday’s school board meeting is expected to begin at 6 p.m.