Students at Fort Myers Beach Elementary School and Sanibel Elementary School, which remain shut down after getting swamped by Hurricane Ian last month, will now attend San Carlos Park Elementary School in inland Lee County north of Estero.
Gov. Ron DeSantis made the announcement Friday and applauded the resiliency of teachers and families throughout the county to rebound after the devastation brought by Ian, which destroyed homes, businesses and critical infrastructure when it made landfall as a Category 4 storm on Sept. 28.
“It just shows people are unifying and really working hard to get back on their feet,” DeSantis said at an event at the school.
San Carlos Park Elementary had 660 students and 62 teachers before the storm hit, DeSantis said. Now, it will have more than 1,000 students and more than 100 teachers.
The school is 24 miles away from Sanibel Elementary and 16 miles from Fort Myers Beach Elementary. But many of the families who sent children to those schools are displaced from their homes, living in hotels, motels, with family nearby or in temporary shelters.
One San Carlos Park Elementary teacher described her ordeal during Ian and the hardship her fellow teachers continue to face more than three weeks after the storm hit. Tracy Lorenzini, a Cape Coral resident, rode out the storm in the second story of her sister’s nearby house with her husband and two children.
“The storm was scary,” Lorenzini said. “We were in a closet for hours. The house shook. We had the metal shutters fall off, a window broke. My 7-year-old daughter was truly traumatized as I think we all were.”
After the storm passed, she saw her house had flooded, irreparably damaging the inside. Her family stayed with her parents, and attempts to file insurance claims haven’t resulted in a payout so far. Lorenzini said other teachers fared worse, with vehicles and homes destroyed and without families nearby to help them.
“I have coworkers wondering how they’re going to afford their high deductibles. I have friends who are continuing to pay for their mortgage while also needing to pay for rent for an apartment now. Teachers are told they can stay in a hotel when the nearest option is an hour away,” Lorenzini said.
“And yet teachers are here at school. They are welcoming them back, they are hugging them tight. They are listening to the students’ horribly tragic stories with such compassion and care.”
DeSantis also announced $2 million from the state’s Florida Disaster Fund will be donated to local education foundations in six counties — Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota, Collier, DeSoto and Hardee — to help teachers there recover from the storm, providing transportation, home repairs and other assistance. Lee will receive $500,000; Collier, Sarasota and Charlotte will get $350,000 each; and DeSoto and Hardee will each get $225,000.