With a special legislative session underway for flood relief in eastern Kentucky, leadership from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) met virtually on Aug. 25 with the superintendents of impacted districts to provide an update on the two bills introduced by the General Assembly.
The mirror bills, House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1, were introduced Aug. 24. In their current form, the bills waive up to 15 student attendance days for districts that were closed due to the flooding. The waived days also would count as contract days for school personnel.
The proposed legislation also includes provisions for up to 20 remote instructional days per district, as approved by the commissioner of education, that can be applied on a school-by-school basis. Additionally, a local board of education may allow emergency leave to any full-time or part-time classified or certified employee if the local board determines it is necessary due to the disaster.
“I am appreciative that they are looking at the emergency days for our staff,” said Wayne Sizemore, superintendent of Jackson Independent. “We still have staff members who are without homes, and I am just appreciative they are looking at that part for staff members. … They are still struggling and we want to try to get back to normalcy, so I’m appreciative of that.”
For most provisions of the bill, any district in the federally declared disaster zone in eastern Kentucky will qualify for relief. Those counties include:
Robin Kinney, associate commissioner of KDE’s Office of Finance and Operations, said the department is seeking clarity on more detailed questions as damages vary from district to district. She encouraged districts to apply for public assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), even those who believe they may not qualify, due to language in the proposed legislation.
“There is language in the bill that leads us to believe that if you are not registered and applying for relief through both FEMA and your insurance, it is possible, that if you don’t take those affirmative steps, you will not be able to access these funds out of this eastern Kentucky fund,” she said. “If you have not [applied], I highly encourage you to do that.”
KDE Director of Government Relations Brian Perry said that KDE is appreciative for this initial relief and will continue to work with legislators to provide additional assistance in the upcoming general session regarding enrollment funding, a concern discussed in the previous superintendents’ huddle.
Update from Kentucky Emergency Management
School Liaison Valoria Smith from the Kentucky Emergency Management (KYEM) said there have been 12 requests by schools for public assistance, six districts will not apply, two that have not responded and one district’s request is in process.
Since the last huddle, Lincoln, Powell and Lee were added to those declared as disaster-impacted counties, bringing the total to 18 counties. KYEM will be beginning one-on-one briefings with impacted districts in the coming days.
Smith also said that the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is working on debris removal and encouraged schools to reach out if they need support in using this resource.
Project Recovery Eastern Kentucky Crisis Counseling Program
Assistant Director for the Kentucky Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities Patti Clark from the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) said the crisis counseling program is being offered for 60 days. After the initial 60 days, the project will turn into a service program offered in eastern Kentucky for nine months.
The program allows DPH to provide crisis counseling to students, staff, parents and community members. Clark said crisis counseling is not necessarily therapy, but rather a way to connect with those in need.
“It really is just that first touch and that early follow-up to determine what types of needs are needed and to connect to available long-term resources,” she said.
Clark also encouraged districts to re-evaluate their mandated suicide awareness training. She said flood-impacted school districts should focus more on intervention because of the impact students have experienced.
“We classify this level of trauma as very similar to having one of their classmates or a school staff member die by suicide. We really want you to think of an alternative way of providing support to students,” she said.
DPH offers a new program, Code Red, which focuses on encouraging students to find their strengths and develop a plan should they find themselves in distress. Perry County recently used this program. Superintendent Jonathan Jett said the district trained their entire staff and it was well-received.
“It was extremely beneficial. Staff was extremely complementary of it,” he said.
School Start Dates
School districts that received more significant damage are starting school later than originally planned. Leslie and Perry County schools will go back on Sept. 6, and Jenkins Independent will go back on Sept. 12. Knott County Schools announced a tentative start date of Sept. 19.
Floyd County started school this week. Superintendent Anna Shepherd said staff are working together to check in on flood-impacted students who didn’t show up for school. Now the focus turns toward helping students with long-term needs.
“It’s been a wonderful start and many in our district are saying it’s been one of our best starts ever,” she said.
Shepherd spoke about the importance of communication and teamwork in recovery efforts in a Kentucky Teacher column published earlier this week.
Breathitt County and Letcher County schools have not been able to open yet, but superintendents from both districts said their high schools hosted home football games and were excited to have their respective communities come together.
“These events are really important in small town Kentucky, and they have even more importance right now, an opportunity to bring the community together, people to see each other and reconnect. It’s just heartwarming to hear those are taking place,” said Commissioner of Education Jason E. Glass.
Glass, Kentucky Board of Education Chair Lu S. Young and KDE leadership will be visiting several impacted districts in eastern Kentucky Aug. 30-31.