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'Normal may be long time from now': Breathitt Co. superintendent talks flood recovery

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Posted at 11:15 PM, Aug 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-10 23:15:58-04

BREATHITT COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — While students filed into classrooms in central Kentucky for the first day of the school year Wednesday, school district leaders in eastern Kentucky were crossing their fingers that their students would follow suit before the month is over.

"We're often the hub of the county and a place that everyone looks to for resources," said Phillip Watts, the superintendent of Breathitt County Schools.

Speaking to LEX 18 via Zoom Wednesday, Watts sat alongside Will Noble, the facilities and technology director for the district.

"We have a lot of people that need their stories told out in the community," said Noble. "They don't have those necessities right now."

Noble and Watts said they are still taking inventory to gauge the extent of damage to school supplies and other items.

The most pressing priorities, they said, were ensuring families can access what they need in order to survive.

For example, Marie Roberts-Caney Elementary School was converted into a distribution center for donations shortly after the floods. President Joe Biden and Governor Andy Beshear held a briefing at the school during the president's visit Monday.

"As [Governor Beshear] was talking to the president, he made it known to the president that the school systems in eastern Kentucky were a big part of the recovery efforts," Watts noted.

The school year was slated to start Thursday in Breathitt County, but the damage left behind by the floods forced district leaders to postpone the start until August 29.

"One of the biggest obstacles we'll have is transportation," Watts said. "I think we'll probably have our facilities ready to go."

The floods caused extensive damage to roads and bridges in eastern Kentucky, which has made travel precarious for those in rural areas.

Watts proposed the possibility of establishing more centrally located drop-off and pick-up spots for buses to transport students, but he said those details are still being discussed.

"We'll just have to get creative on our transportation and do the best we can," Watts said.

Watts and Noble both stressed the importance of bringing students back to school -- if, for nothing else, to provide them a sense of normalcy.

"Normal may be a long time from now," Watts said. "But if we can just create a learning environment for students that are able to attend late August, early September, it'll just be exciting to see their faces be able to serve them a hot meal."