New school year on hold for much of flood-damaged areas

Published 11:17 am Wednesday, August 3, 2022

It’s not just homes and businesses that have been damaged or destroyed due to the disastrous flooding in eastern Kentucky, as many school districts have to determine when and where classes can begin for the new school year.

Many superintendents said the flooding was unlike anything they’ve seen, in a virtual meeting with the Department of Education on Tuesday.

The Perry County School District has nine schools, with two schools severely damaged.  Buckhorn School has damage to doors, windows and debris throughout the building. Perry County Superintendent John Jett said he believes that Robinson Elementary will need to be rebuilt due to the collapsing of 20% of the roof and an exterior wall. The struggle now is trying to decide where to house students for the upcoming school year, which will not be able to start as scheduled.

He said he fears recovery will be a lengthy process. “The unfortunate part is that the communities that were hit were some of our most impoverished communities.  The long-term effects on my community are going to be heartbreaking for years to come.  We are going to need a lot of support for a long time.”

Letcher County Superintendent Denise Yonts says six of district’s 10 schools were affected by flooding, with three of them having 8 feet of water. The Central Office also was damaged, and they also lost two staff members.

“Our community as a whole is devasted,” she said.

The schools that are intact are now serving as donation centers, she said, and the district is committed to do whatever it takes to get back in school so students and staff can have some normalcy.

Breathitt County Superintendent Phillip Watts is among those who say this has been historic.  “We went through this in 2020,” he said.  “This round is way worse, nothing like last time. We have some of the hardest-hit areas I’ve ever seen.   I’ve never seen any rain like that in my life.”

With homes destroyed, members of the community are camping out and sleeping in cars.

Three schools were impacted in Knott County: the high school, the area technology center and an elementary school, said Superintendent Brent Hoover. Although there has been no structural damage to the buildings, Knott County will not start school until they are able to assess damages to equipment.

He said he is thankful for the outpouring of support from not just Kentuckians, but also individuals from across the United States.  Schools that were not heavily impacted are serving as donation centers.  “We have people cooking at four schools today, it’s just amazing.”

Other superintendents say undamaged schools in their districts are being used for a variety of purposes, such as rescue and recovery centers, as well as staging areas for Kentucky National Guard units.

Stephanie Robey, assistant director of administration for Kentucky Emergency Management, who took part in the meeting, said the impacted districts will be eligible for FEMA assistance, and encouraged them to use FEMA Monday to cover items that will not be eligible under insurance, such as sports fields.

Robey told the superintendents Kentucky Emergency Management is available to help districts work through the complex documentation and coordinating volunteers and donations.

“The state is going to help you in any way you find necessary,” she said.