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School scrutinized, owner responds

| Gail Acosta
Lighthouse Private Christian Academy on New Hope Rd. in Gulf Breeze has come under the scrutiny of Santa Rosa County officials, Midway Fire Department, and Department of Children and Families in recent days as a result of a fire safety inspection.
Dr. Joanna Johannes said she was surprised the fire chief went to the television news media and other agencies before he had any direct communication with her.

It began when the Midway Fire District Fire Marshal, Michael Osban, arrived at the campus for their annual fire inspection. The school had called Osban requesting the inspection in February, but they were told the calendar was full. Osban came to the campus early March along with several firefighters.

Midway District Fire Chief, Jonathan Kanzigg, said he took an anonymous call reporting that students were living on campus. Although Kanzigg said he received such a call, he said the caller lived out of state and was supposedly calling on behalf of someone connected to the school.

“We don’t acknowledge anonymous complaints. But by coincidence, Lighthouse contacted us and requested an annual fire inspection to meet their accreditation requirement. We thought while we were there, we would take a look.”

Due to the complaint, Osban started his inspection at the two houses on campus. Kanzigg said what Osban found was concerning.


“Since our previous inspection there, they have started boarding children. We had no knowledge of that,” Kanzigg said. “They were boarding lots of children. It was not sanitary. There were eggs under beds, sheets on windows as curtains, food everywhere. They don’t have a boarding license. They cannot do this. And the fire marshal issued a cease and desist.”

He immediately shut the two houses down, leaving Lighthouse to find alternative housing for the students.

Dr. Joanna Johannes, founder of Lighthouse Private Christian Academy, said the male students are from Brazil and are between the ages of 15-18. She said the students displaced are in the country until May 15 on an F1 visa which, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, allows academic students to enter the US as a full-time student at an accredited learning institution. She compared the rooms to normal teenage boy rooms.

“The rooms are equipped with bunkbeds,” she said. “Their parents even toured these rooms and were very happy with the accommodations. The rooms were not unsanitary.”

“Furthermore, I sent a text to Osban asking for clarification on the inspection because he also indicated I would have to install sprinkler systems in the campus houses that are zoned R2,” Johannes said. “In his response to me, he copied every one of my accreditation agencies.”

After the inspection and shut down, Johannes transferred the students to a hotel for approximately five days. When the school was notified that hotel rates were going up for the season, and they needed the rooms, Lighthouse had to rethink the arrangements.

Johannes owns two personal homes; one she lives in and one on Refuge Circle in Gulf Breeze. She decided to house the students in the two homes until the campus houses could meet the inspection requirements. Kanzigg told Navarre Press Johannes didn’t discuss moving the students out of the hotel, where he felt they were more secure because of the sprinkler system in the hotel.

“I put 12 (students) at the Refuge Circle house and 12 at my personal home. And the home on Refuge has an adult there.” Johannes said. “It’s a $500,000 beautiful home with four bedrooms.” But she said the neighbors on Refuge Circle came out like a “posse.”

“It was terrible. One lady showed up stumbling, knocking on the door, and began harassing the student who answered,” Johannes said.

Johannes believes the neighbors assumed the students were illegal immigrants who posed a danger to the neighborhood.

“These students are at the highest level in academics, and they are amazing athletes and so well-mannered. Their parents paid for the students to come here privately without any subsidy. It is their dream to come and study in America,” Johannes said.

The concerned neighbors then reported more than 20 students living in one home. They notified Kanzigg about the students being in the house and sent him a video of students getting off a Lighthouse bus. Johannes said the students wanted to have meals together and study together, but they were not all staying in one home. At the end of the day, they would be split between the two homes.

“Honestly, I’ve seen more people than that staying in a house used as an AirBnB,” Johannes said. “These students are not a threat to anyone.”

For the students’ safety, she told them they could no longer congregate together in one house. She also told Navarre Press that the students on Refuge Circle live in fear in their neighborhood and rarely go outside anymore.

Dr. Joanna Johannes

Trouble continues
A few days after the fire inspection, Johannes received a letter from Santa Rosa County Development Services Code Enforcement, dated March 6, 2024, and signed by Patrick Campbell. The letter stated they had received a code violation complaint at the address listed for the school. The complaint was for a zoning violation, non-conforming use in zoning district, site plan violation and unpermitted construction/ building without a permit.

Navarre Press reached out to Campbell for clarification on the complaint. Campbell said he had not been to the property and had very little knowledge of “what is going on out there,” but would try to answer questions about it. He said the letter was issued after a complaint came directly from Osban.

When asked to clarify the violations, Campbell said he believed the school had added a football field and did not have the field drainage re-inspected. Work had also been completed on a retention pond and needed to be re-inspected. He said the school also enclosed a garage on one of the houses without a permit. Campbell said Johannes has been very cooperative and respectful.

“We believe they are moving forward to get these things resolved,” Campbell said.
A search of the county permitting website shows all permits for the property are marked as “closed” except for one to build a locker room. Johannes said that project never really got off the ground.

DCF Called
Last Thursday, a DCF investigator toured the Lighthouse campus with the Osban and, according to Kanzigg did not find anything alarming with the students she interviewed. Johannes said the investigator told her she was impressed with the accommodations.

In the meantime, Kanzigg told Navarre Press he was the one who called a local television station, the county’s code enforcement department, and Department of Children and Families to investigate the school. When asked if he tried to reach out to the school personnel before contacting the authorities, he said no. Johannes confirms Kanzigg has not reached out to her at all during or after the inspection.

“I wanted to get their attention,” Kanzigg said. “We have had problems trying to get them to comply with issues in the past.”

At the request of Navarre Press, Johannes provided a copy of the 2023 fire inspection report, which said the property passed inspection with no violations. Additionally, in that report, Osban noted “annual inspection with fire drill was conducted and passed with no corrective actions needed.”

‘This goes back to 2009’
Johannes believes the actions by the chief stem from when she first moved her school to what is now the Gulf Breeze Zoo. In 2009, the zoo was owned by late Gulf Breeze resident Pat Quinn. The zoo was in dire financial straits and Quinn was making every effort to keep it open.

“Pat approached me and said the zoo is going under unless we can make the debt payment,” Johannes explained. “After some thought, I said, ‘what if I lease a portion of the property and open educational classrooms?’”

Johannes and Quinn agreed and began renovations. “We got major kick back from the fire department. Kanzigg was in charge then,” Johannes said. “They (Midway Fire) were quoting different reasons why I couldn’t do it – the way the front building was, they said we would have to change everything. I had to hire professional fire consultants to come in and help me.” Johannes said. “We finally were able to turn several buildings at the zoo into educational centers. I think he considers Lighthouse as having a history of arguing points.”

Johannes said they are working hard to install the fire sprinkler systems on the two campus homes, which is the only requirement they had to meet.

“I have received so much support from our community, it really has been special. People are coming up to me at different events telling me they support us and are praying for us. We are going to continue moving forward to provide quality education and a love for Christ at all our schools.”

Lighthouse Private Christian Academy is a K-12 school, opened in 2005 and has a 99% graduation rate.

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