Graphic Reading Superintendents Huddle - Flood Recovery 9.15.22

During the Sept. 15 meeting  with leadership from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), superintendents of flood-impacted districts in eastern Kentucky shared how they are working to meet the needs of displaced families and students with issues ranging from internet connectivity to transportation. 

One of the concerns for families and students located at temporary housing is internet connectivity. Breathitt County currently has 13 students at one campground with limited access to the internet, which limits their ability to complete schoolwork or log on to parent portals.

Breathitt County Superintendent Phillip Watts said he’s tried to reach out to a few people for help, but the progress is slow going.

“The campground we are working with, the hotspots don’t work,” he said.

KDE Associate Commissioner David Couch said hotspots are the service that most quickly address the Internet connectivity issues in campgrounds of displaced adults and students. For campgrounds where hotspots can work, he said there are two federal funding sources that may help: the district Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) or the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), for which parents can apply. There are also companies that provide temporary internet access.

“This is a community wide issues we have seen in reports. Everyone in those campgrounds are wanting some kind of Internet connectivity to keep from feeling isolated and sometimes they do remote work,” Couch said. “But also, normal things you would do if you had internet in the house.”

Based upon the discussion, only Breathitt County has displaced students living at a campground without an available internet option right now. With Letcher County and Jenkins Independent not yet in school, the superintendents do not know what their internet needs may be in temporary locations beyond the school campus that have displaced adults and students.

Couch said KDE will continue to monitor the concerns and work with individual districts on any current or future connectivity issues in campgrounds.

School Start Dates

Jenkins Independent will start school on Sept. 19. Superintendent Damian Johnson said staff, teachers and volunteers have put in 12-14 hour days to help get the schools ready.

“I’m really proud of the teamwork that all of these groups showed to make this happen,” he said. “It’s really amazing.”

After a slight hurdle popped up earlier in the week, the district has resolved the issue and is now finishing up repairs, with the preschool room fully set up next door at the church.

“The teachers are in their rooms and setting their rooms up and we will have open house tomorrow evening,” he said.

Knott County Schools also will return to school on Sept. 19. Superintendent Brent Hoover said the district is making really good progress.

“We’ve got transportation worked out. The building is cleaned,” he said. “We got air quality testing on Monday. The formal report comes back tomorrow, but preliminary reports show everything is excellent.”

Superintendent Denise Yonts said Letcher County is using “every minute of the next four or five days” to get schools ready to start on Sept. 21.

“We are working feverishly to get our buildings ready,” she said. “We got most all furniture moved in. We have another load of furniture and supplies coming tomorrow, so hopefully by Monday they will all be fully furnished and ready to go.”

Transportation Issues

In a previous huddle, districts expressed concerns about transportation.

KDE Associate Commissioner Robin Kinney reminded districts that the SAFE funding administered by KDE will provide for wraparound services for school children and their families, which could include afterschool tutoring or mental health counseling, transportation costs for displaced students and school facility repairs. 

Kinney said the language in the House Bill 1, which passed during the 2022 special session, allows KDE to help districts with additional transportations costs from students displaced outside of their home county.

Districts can access the department’s SAFE fund application on KDE’s State Grants webpage.

KDE will host the next superintendents huddle for flood-impacted districts on Sept. 22.