How Floodwaters Are Affecting Students In Eastern Kentucky

Record flooding is affecting Kentucky students forced out of school with damage that could take months to clean up.

By Jessica Marie Baumgartner | Published

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Record flooding hit the midwest hard. Eastern Kentucky has spent weeks cleaning up the damage, but the new school year is off to a rocky start. Many Kentucky students have late start dates and longer commutes due to location changes and damage repair.

In Buckhorn, Letcher County, Knott County, and Leslie County, schools have had to alter schedules and find temporary locations. More than 7,600 Kentucky students are affected by this devastation. School buildings have sustained severe water damage, displaying water marks from the four to six feet of water that filled classrooms and hallways. 

Physical Kentucky student records and new paperwork have been destroyed. Computer systems with backup drives were completely washed away, creating a need for new digital systems. Buildings are having to be cleared out. Desks and other classroom essentials are being piled up in school parking lots while workers don hazmat suits and get to work pulling out debris and damaged chunks of drywall. It will take months to fully clear out buildings and begin the rebuilding process. 

Because of this, Kentucky students will have to wait to start the new school year. This is especially concerning being that school children are already suffering from learning loss due to excessive pandemic lockdowns and social distancing protocols. In Letcher County, 90% of the students qualify for the free or reduced-lunch programs and so meeting their needs is increasingly challenging. Many do not have the means to travel to far-off temporary locations and so area schools are scrambling to determine where to place students until repairs are finished, and how to get them there. 

The Letcher County School District has already utilized $3 million in school funds for cleanup work. This is shifting budgetary needs from students to school infrastructure. Superintendent Denise Yonts expressed her fears that this will only hurt Kentucky students in the long run. Focusing more money on flood cleanup means there will be less money for academic needs. 

In order to provide ample support Kentucky’s Governor, Andy Beshear scheduled a special legislative session. This renewed hopes that state officials would create an economic package to support Kentucky students and the schools that are working to serve them. Lawmakers agreed to provide $213 million in disaster relief, $40 million of which will be specifically directed to the Education Department for cleanup efforts. 

kentucky students

This money is an immediate relief package that may need to be expanded on later. Teachers have had to redo lesson plans and accept various losses of classroom materials. Meanwhile, Kentucky students and families are struggling to learn when and where children will be taught this year. 

While some schools are focused on curriculum materials and combating learning gaps, areas in Eastern Kentucky are working to just ensure that children have a place to learn. It is a tragic result of the recent floods. Despite this, communities are working hard to give Kentucky students the education they deserve and state lawmakers have provided additional funding to ensure that happens soon. How each district recovers depends on many factors, but school support has become a necessity to allow families and education staff a return to normal.