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Crews working to determine if graves are under old Clearwater elementary school

Crews work to see if graves are under Clearwater elementary school
Posted at 1:08 PM, Feb 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-01 17:54:19-05

CLEARWATER, Fla.  — After years of speculation and questions we will finally know if graves are really under the old Palmetto Elementary school building.

“I’m glad. It’s about time,” said Barbara Love.

Love is a member of the Clearwater Heights Remembrance Committee and the Clearwater Colored cemeteries committee. Both organizations, along with the NAACP and the school district joined forces so the land could be excavated.

“There are bodies there. And it’s not right,” said Zebbie D. Atkinson IV.

Atkinson the the president of the Clearwater Upper Pinellas County branch of the NAACP, and he said there’s no doubt in his mind, “graves are under the school.”

According to the city and the Pinellas County School District officials, in the 1950s, there was a land swap to make way for a city swimming pool, however, it was contingent that all the graves were removed. Officials believed the graves were relocated, until last year.

The engineering firm Cardno and archaeologists with the Florida Public Archaeology Network used ground-penetrating radar to scan land around the old Curtis Fundamental school on Holt Avenue earlier this month. A draft report says 44 grave-like anomalies were found.

“When the school was built, the bodies weren’t removed,” Atkinson said. “Something has to be done about it.”

Experts surveyed open grass lots, parking lots, Holt Avenue, part of Engman St. and space around the school building.

The report says in addition to the grave-like anomalies, there were also disturbances that may indicate where burials were removed.

It also added that clusters of grave-like anomalies were found adjacent to Holt Avenue and near the school building.

The draft report states, "it is likely that a number of additional grave-like anomalies will be present beneath the footprint of the school building."

The excavation will take about 10 days to complete. As of right now, community members aren’t sure what they want to do with the land after this process.

“The archaeologists do not recommend removing the graves or the bodies,” Love said. “Some people have talked about a memorial, but we will determine that later.”

Clint Herbic, associate superintendent for Pinellas County Schools, said the district is using this as a teaching moment for students.

“We are looking to tie this in to science, social studies, and language arts to get our students engaged,” said Herbic.