After devastating floods delayed the start of the school year for many eastern Kentucky students, all 171 school districts are back in class as of this week, Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) staff shared with superintendents of flood-impacted districts during a Sept. 22 meeting.
“It is a huge, huge accomplishment and each of you should pat yourselves on the back and pat the backs of all your students and staff that are coming and rejoining,” said KDE Associate Commissioner Robin Kinney. “Never have I seen kids so excited to come back to school.”
The 2,800 students who attend Letcher County Schools returned on Sept. 21. Superintendent Denise Yonts said their opening day was “an absolutely fabulous day.”
“We had a great first day and a great morning,” she said. “Kids and parents were happy to be here. We did have traffic issues that we expected, … people were patient and helped us work those things out.”
Yonts also expressed gratitude to surrounding districts for donating furniture.
“Districts around us have helped and donated and sent loads of things so we can have everything we need to get school started,” she said.
Jenkins Independent Superintendent Damian Johnson said the district experienced a “great start” on Sept. 19.
“I’ve been here 22 years and we had a record number of people attend open house,” he said. “We’ve been looking at our numbers and we have 70 new students in our building.”
Knott County also started the school year on Sept. 19. Superintendent Brent Hoover said it was the best start he had experienced in 28 years.
“I promise you the first day of school was just a true celebration and not one student or teacher even knew they were on a concrete floor,” he said.
Several districts’ current concern continues to be attendance, as discussed in a previous huddle. Hoover said a majority of the of the 152 students the district lost has transferred to a different district.
Perry County Superintendent Johnathan Jett said his district is still experiencing drops in attendance due to COVID and other illnesses.
“It’s really hard to get to 93-94% attendance right now and I think that’s going to be the case throughout the year,” he said.
High attendance week helped Jackson Independent see better attendance numbers, said Superintendent Wayne Sizemore.
“Today is 94% and we’re really happy with that,” he said.
Now the focus for all flood-impacted districts is long-term recovery. Dawson Springs Independent Superintendent Leonard Whalen, whose community in western Kentucky was impacted by tornadoes in December 2021, said his community just now seeing family housing rebuilt.
“We are nine months out from the tornado and this is stuff we are just now starting to see,” he said. “Just hang in there and keep plugging. You’re going to see things start to pick up. It’s just a lengthy process.”
Kinney reminded superintendents the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will cover 100% of eligible costs related to debris removal and emergency protective measures for a to-be-determined 30-day period. Surveys are being sent to superintendents that will help in determining what will be designated as Kentucky’s 30-day period.
If a district is ready to request East Kentucky State Aid Funding for Emergencies (SAFE) funding from KDE, Kinney said districts can reach out for assistance on completing the application. Districts should consult with their insurance provider and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for possible payment of claims as SAFE funds are to assist with costs incurred not covered by insurance or FEMA.
Districts can access the department’s SAFE fund application on KDE’s State Grants webpage.
KDE will not meet with superintendents next week. The next huddle is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 5.