The School Board of Manatee County and Manatee County commissioners will work in tandem to get to the bottom of a Manatee County mystery that has been brewing for more than a decade: Are students who attended the old Bayshore High School more susceptible to cancer?
A group of Bayshore alumni say contamination in the grounds of the old school site, possibly caused by buried diesel tanks, has caused an elevated rate of cancer among students and staff who attended the school. The issue has been discussed, petitions have been signed and studies conducted for more than a decade.
On March 2, county commissioners voted to receive a report on the county’s investigation, and on Tuesday school board members were strongly in favor of working together with county officials to find the truth.
Obviously it will be a joint effort to get to the bottom of this. I'd like to say we are getting ahead of this, but we are probably 25 years too late.
Board Chairman Charlie Kennedy
“Obviously, it will be a joint effort to get to the bottom of this,” said board Chairman Charlie Kennedy. “I’d like to say we are getting ahead of this, but we are probably 25 years too late.”
Until its demolition in 1999, the old Bayshore High School building was adjacent to the current high school site at 5401 34th St. W.
Kennedy even suggested reaching out to Bayshore alumni to notify them there was a higher risk of cancer, but Superintendent Diana Greene said that was not the role of the school district.
Cheryl Jozsa, a 1981 graduate of Bayshore High School, was the first to question whether Bayshore could be the link between the deaths of alumni. Jozsa’s sister, Terri Lumsden Jewell, died in 1999 from a rare form of leukemia. In 2003, when Jozsa heard of another classmate dying of a similar rare cancer, she became suspicious.
Jozsa said she has documented 88 Bayshore alumni cancer deaths, 156 alumni who have had cancer, 100 with autoimmune illnesses and 64 whose children had birth defects.
“Get together and finally get this resolved,” Jozsa said. “Our numbers speak for themselves.”
School board Vice Chairman John Colon, whose father died from cancer due to chemicals he encountered while working as a mechanic, said he had personal stake in the issue. And he responded to the concerns that, over the years, the district had paid for tests that failed to put the issue to rest.
“The most important thing is to do the proper test,” Colon said. “I want the proper testing to be done.”
The school board members’ comments echoed those of the county commissioners at the March 2 land use meeting. At that meeting, Commissioner Robin DiSabatino said the commissioners had to address the years-old question.
“It’s up to us to investigate this further. ... It’s just very upsetting that this information, there is a preponderance of this information and it’s statistically significant,” said DiSabatino. “We can’t let this go.”