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Advocates fighting to stop planned school in Estero

They say LeHigh Acres needs it more
Posted at 12:34 AM, Nov 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-02 00:36:31-04

ESTERO — A group of advocates is fighting to stop the construction of a brand new school in Estero.

Construction on that planned school is set to begin next year, but the group says Estero doesn’t need it, LeHigh Acres does.

The group signed a complaint Monday in the office of Mario Juarez, the President of the US-FL Guatemala Chamber of Commerce. They're sending that complaint to the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.

“We feel this is discrimination," said Juarez.

Discrimination because, according to the group’s complaint, the planned school would invest around $100 million in taxpayer money on about a 70-acre plot of land in Estero, when the group says there is much more need in LeHigh Acres.

The School District’s plan would turn that expanse of land off Three Oaks Pkwy. into an academic village that could support up to 1,600 students, Kindergarten through 8th Grade, starting in August of 2023.

But Juarez said he simply doesn’t believe the Village of Estero has the students to justify it.

“I have asked records about, to have proof. How many students actually Estero has, or why are they requesting this new school?” said Juarez.

Another member of the group, Denise Nystrom, said she heard it from the School District itself that Estero is not where the growth is.

“I came across a video where Dr. Savage, who at that point was the Chief Operations Director, actually said the growth in Estero was slow," said Nystrom.

She’s referring to this video from May of 2020.

“The advantage we have in the Estero situation is simply that the growth rate is slow. While certainly we could already use schools in that area, when you contrast it with areas like LeHigh, LeHigh far higher growth rate," said Superintendent Dr. Ken Savage during the May 4th, 2020 School Board workshop. (His comments begin at 03:07:18)

And not only is there a higher growth rate, but Nystrom said, there’s a much different demographic makeup.

“When I understood that the population in east Lee was predominantly Black and Hispanic, I was very upset by that. I felt like that was the perfect definition of systemic racism," said Nystrom.

Juarez said, they’re hoping their complaint can lead the Federal Government to take a look at the plan.

“We really want to investigate, not only the Board member for School District 3, but also the whole School Board and the Superintendent as well," said Juarez.

School Board District 3 is represented by Board member Chris Patricca. We reached out to her and forwarded a copy of the complaint, but we have not yet heard back.

We also reached out to the School District, which told us it has received the complaint and is reviewing it. The group also plans to raise their concerns at Tuesday night’s School Board Action Meeting.