EASTERN KENTUCKY (FOX 56) – Fayette County students are already back in the classroom. But for more than a dozen school districts in eastern Kentucky, the date for the first day of school is still to be determined.
The Kentucky Department of Education has been holding virtual huddles with the superintendents from the 18 flood-impacted school districts. The department is using the meetup as an opportunity to learn the specific needs and challenges each district is facing in the way of reopening.
In Breathitt County, Superintendent Phillip Watts said he has more than 100 students and staff directly impacted by the flooding.
Watts explained, “Out of 265 full-time employees, I’ve had 56 staff members impacted. Just at one school alone, Marie Roberts-Caney Elementary, you got 277 students. I’ve got 81 that’s probably lost everything.”
Watts isn’t the only superintendent in flood-ravaged counties struggling to pick up the pieces after July’s historic flooding.
Perry County Superintendent Jonathan Jett said, “It looks like Robinson is going to be best case scenario a rebuild because part of the roof collapsed.”
Several schools were left with inches of mud after several feet of water-filled classrooms and gyms.
That was the case in Knott County. Superintendent Brent Hoover explained. Hoover said, “We have some questions and concerns about the air quality. We’re testing that. We did find asbestos in two of our buildings. Knott central and Hindman. We’re trying to mitigate that.”
The repairs will be both costly and lengthy.
Jett added, “Just the HVAC alone is going to be in excess of $100k. The sprinkler system works but it will need all new heads, fire alarm works.”
But for the superintendents, reopening the schools physically is the easiest part. The superintendents said they are now focused on meeting the immediate needs of staff and students both physically and mentally while construction crews handle the buildings.
Denise Yonts with Letcher County said, “I learned from last time mobile units are going to work for us. We had looked into that and the length of time to get them and get them set up so we’re looking at how to use our existing facilities and space to house students that are displaced.”
In Jackson, Superintendent Wayne Sizemore said the district is offering mental health support for its students and staff. “It’s really about mental support for our students and staff because we had so many staff members affected and so many students; so we’ve been working with Kentucky River Community Care to set up afterschool care for our staff for group therapy potential, just to offer that.”
A few districts have already started school despite ongoing cleanup efforts. Schools in Jackson started Wednesday and schools in Hazard and Clay County opened Thursday. Other districts are hoping to open their doors by mid-September.