During the Sept. 15 meeting with Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) leaders, superintendents from flood-affected districts in eastern Kentucky shared how they are working to meet the needs of families and displaced students with issues ranging from internet connectivity to transportation.
One of the concerns of families and students housed in temporary accommodation is internet connectivity. Breathitt County currently has 13 students in a campground with limited internet access, which limits their ability to complete homework or log into parent portals.
Breathitt County Superintendent Phillip Watts said he had tried contacting a few people for help, but progress was slow.
“The campground we work with, the hotspots don’t work,” he said.
KDE Associate Commissioner David Couch said hotspots are the fastest service to resolve internet connectivity issues in campgrounds of displaced adults and students. For campgrounds where hotspots can operate, he said there are two federal funding sources that could help: the district’s Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) or the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), to which parents can apply. There are also companies that provide temporary Internet access.
“This is a community-wide issue that we have seen in the reports. Everyone in these campgrounds wants some kind of internet connectivity so they don’t feel isolated and sometimes they work remotely,” Couch said. “But also, normal things you would do if you had internet in the house.”
Based on the discussion, only Breathitt County has moved students living in a campground with no internet option available at this time. With Letcher County and Jenkins Independent not yet in school, superintendents are unsure what their internet needs might be in temporary locations beyond the school campus that have displaced adults and students.
Couch said KDE will continue to monitor concerns and work with individual districts on any current or future connectivity issues at campgrounds.
Jenkins Independent will start school on September 19. Superintendent Damian Johnson said staff, teachers and volunteers have put in 12-14 hours a day to help prepare schools.
“I’m really proud of the teamwork that all of these groups have shown to make this happen,” he said. “It’s really unbelievable.”
After a slight impediment appeared earlier in the week, the district has resolved the issue and is now completing repairs, with the preschool hall fully installed next to the church.
“Teachers are in their rooms getting their rooms ready and we’ll have open houses tomorrow night,” he said.
Schools in Knott County will also return to school on September 19. Superintendent Brent Hoover said the district is making very good progress.
“We solved the transport problem. The building is cleaned,” he said. “We had air quality testing on Monday. The official report comes back tomorrow, but preliminary reports show that everything is excellent. »
Superintendent Denise Yonts said Letcher County is using “every minute of the next four or five days” to prepare schools to start Sept. 21.
“We are working feverishly to prepare our buildings,” she said. “We’ve had most of the furniture moved in. We have another batch of furniture and supplies coming tomorrow, so hopefully by Monday they’ll all be fully furnished and ready to go.”
At an earlier rally, districts expressed concerns about transportation.
KDE Associate Commissioner Robin Kinney reminded districts that SAFE funding administered by KDE will provide comprehensive services to schoolchildren and their families, which could include after-school tutoring or mental health counselling, fees transport for displaced students and the repair of school facilities.
Kinney said the wording of House Bill 1, which passed in the 2022 special session, allows KDE to help districts with additional transportation costs for students moved outside their home. county of origin.
Districts can access the Department’s SAFE Funds Application on the KDE State Grants webpage.
KDE will host the next gathering of superintendents for flood-affected districts on September 22.
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