Eastern Kentucky schools focused on reopening

Published 9:09 am Thursday, September 8, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...


Superintendents from eastern Kentucky school districts that were devastated by the July flooding shared their progress during a virtual meeting with Kentucky Department of Education officials on Thursday.

Currently, more than 7,600 students in eastern Kentucky are not back in school after the flooding, but four school districts (Jenkins Independent, Knott County, Leslie County and Letcher County) and two schools in Perry County will be starting later this month. 

Email newsletter signup

“We have set a start date for school. We still have some obstacles to overcome, but we are looking at starting school in Letcher County on Sept. 21,” said Superintendent Denise Yonts.

Knott County Schools will return on Sept. 19 after meetings with project managers and architects, Superintendent Brent Hoover reported.  “We were probably 75% confident and now we are 90% confident barring any unforeseen circumstances. All the challenges have been removed or met.”

In Perry County, two of the district’s schools, Buckhorn and Robinson Elementary, were severely damaged by floodwaters.  Students from both schools will be taught this year at the district’s A.B. Combs Elementary campus, a building that has been used primarily for sports since its closure in 2017. Students housed at A.B. Combs Elementary will start school on Sept. 6.

“We feel very confident we are ready to go,” said Superintendent Jonathan Jett. “We’re excited.”

Leslie County schools will go back on Sept. 6, and Jenkins Independent will go back on Sept. 12.

Many of the 25 districts affected by the flooding have large numbers of students and families displaced, but having them all back in school will help return a sense of normalcy the region has sought since the flooding struck near the end of July.

“We are so thankful to get our students back because we’ve been able to better serve our families more by having them back in the building,” said Floyd County Superintendent Anna Shepherd.

Shepherd noted there still are 31 displaced students and nine displaced staff members in the district, but having them in schools allows for direct communication about resources and services available.

Thanks to the recent special session, districts are now able to request aid from the East Kentucky State Aid Funding for Emergencies, or SAFE.

The legislation earmarked $40 million for school cleanup, repair and wraparound services.  It also includes up to 15 student attendance days that can be waived through Jan. 20, 2023, and expands the use of remote instruction for students and emergency leave for educators.

From other SAFE funding sources administered by Kentucky Emergency Management, districts may request reimbursement for services, personnel and equipment; financial support to assist with building and tangible property replacement; replacement or renovation of publicly owned buildings; and strained fiscal liquidity.