Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason E. Glass and leadership from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) held their second virtual meeting with superintendents on Aug. 11 to continue supporting the 18 school districts impacted by recent flooding.
Superintendents on the call expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support and provided updates from their communities during the virtual meeting.
“It’s really humbling when you look up and see a colleague superintendent driving a bus to bring you stuff or a superintendent driving a truck with pallets of water,” said Jonathan Jett, superintendent of Perry County Schools. “We work with a lot of good people that are committed to each other and willing to step up and help.”
Jett wrote about the efforts in Perry County in a guest column on Kentucky Teacher that was published the day of the meeting.
With cleanup and restoration services underway in schools across eastern Kentucky, many superintendents’ concerns now turn to meeting the individual needs of students and staff. Breathitt County Superintendent Phillip Watts said 56 staff members were directly impacted, and in one school alone, 81 students lost everything.
“We are already seeing a few kids unenroll and go to places across the state,” he said.
Letcher County Public Schools Superintendent Denise Yonts shared similar concerns about enrollment numbers and checking in on children. As of Aug. 10, she said 1,250 homes in Letcher County are no longer inhabitable.
“I’m worried about our kids. I’m worried about where they are and how they are,” said Yonts.
For districts that had schools become distribution centers overnight, efforts are underway to move the centers to another location in the communities to allow districts to prepare for the new school year. A majority of the 18 impacted districts have pushed back the start of school.
Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman joined the call to express support on behalf of the governor’s office and to listen to needs and provide updates on relief efforts from the state.
“The impact this has had on your families and communities is massive, and when you add on to that the sheer volume of damage to schools in your district, it’s a massive undertaking and we recognize that,” said Coleman.
Kentucky Education and Labor Cabinet Secretary Jamie Link also expressed support on behalf of the entire cabinet.
“Please know we are with you and want to assist in any way we can,” Link said.
Update from Kentucky Emergency Management
As districts move from response to recovery, the Assistant Director of Administration for Kentucky Emergency Management, Stephanie L. Robey, provided information regarding FEMA and federal assistance.
Once the incident period closes, the impacted districts will have 30 days to request assistance from FEMA.
Kentucky Emergency Management will be sending staff members who are subject matter experts to assist the impacted districts. Robey said the staff will be able to be with districts “as much or as little as necessary to ensure there are no hiccups or stumbles.”
For right now, Robey encouraged districts to maintain records of everything and assign a “historian” to document damaged inventory, track the restoration processes, take before and after photographs and identify volunteer activities that took place.
Disaster Unemployment Assistance
Buddy Hoskinson, Executive Director of the Office of Unemployment Insurance in the Education and Labor Cabinet, joined the huddle with superintendents to share information about Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA).
Hoskinson said those who became unemployed or those who are self-employed and had work interrupted beginning July 26 as a direct result of the severe storms and flooding that occurred in 12 Eastern Kentucky counties that have been approved for individual assistance in the FEMA disaster declaration area are eligible to apply for DUA benefits.
Those counties include: Breathitt, Clay, Floyd, Knott, Leslie, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, Owsley, Perry, Pike and Whitley.
Hoskinson said team members already are on the ground in Knott, Clay, Perry, Breathitt, Letcher and Floyd counties. He added that a mobile workforce center on loan from Louisiana is currently stationed at Buckhorn State Park. It will be there until Saturday, and will then be traveling around “wherever we see a footprint of traffic,” he said.
“Individuals who have been impacted can fill out an application online, over the phone or on site at one of our locations,” Hoskinson said.
Coleman took a moment to encourage individuals to take the time, if possible, to visit one of the sites in person.
“This is a process that is very difficult,” she said. “If you have folks who are struggling with this, the best thing they can do, if they are able, is to go to those locations and sit across the table from someone … and get help with these applications. That will help make a process that was designed to be difficult a little more bearable.”
Robin Kinney, associate commissioner of the Office of Finance and Operations at KDE, said aside from meeting with Kentucky Emergency Management and FEMA daily, KDE officials also have been in contact with Kentucky Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD).
“Kentucky VOAD is so very interested in helping our local school districts,” she said. “We are working to coordinate assistance. If you need help cleaning up, volunteers are able to come and help.”
Kinney also asked superintendents to let KDE know how many portable classrooms they may need in order to resume instruction.
“We need to know how many you need, what you’d like them to look like, where you’d like to locate them,” she said. “We will work very closely with the finance cabinet to get those contracts established.”
Glass said he and other KDE staff plan to visit Eastern Kentucky schools at the end of August.
KDE will hold another huddle next week with affected superintendents and school districts.