FRANKFORT, Ky. — After the sixth school closing in two weeks, the Kentucky Department of Education has asked JCPS and several other school districts for the names of teachers who participated in sick-outs during this legislative session.
KDE Chief Communications Officer Jessica Fletcher said an email was sent to 10 school districts requesting the name of all teachers who called in sick, any affidavit or note from a physician stating the employee was sick or caring for a family member and documents detailing the district's policies for collecting and verifying sick leaves.
The department said Commissioner Wayne Lewis is allowed to have access to teachers' records and school officials can report mismanagement, violation of law, or misconduct to the Board of Education. Lewis said the records will help determine if state law is being upheld by districts.
“The Kentucky Department of Education takes the closing of schools very seriously,” Lewis said. “While it is important that administrators, teachers and students make their voices heard about issues related to public education policy, advocacy should under no circumstances be putting a stop to learning for entire communities.”
The Kentucky Education Association responded to Lewis, saying he and other legislators are failing to recognize that educators do not trust them. The KEA said teachers know from experience that the General Assembly can quickly pass a bill during the closing days of the session, and they hope superintendents will not punish those protesting.
"It is possible that superintendents could take disciplinary action against educators who have called in sick to come to Frankfort to exercise their First Amendment rights," the statement said. "It is our hope that they won’t. Making educators — who are all citizens of this Commonwealth — choose between keeping their livelihood and exercising their constitutional rights is despicable."
In a press conference, Lewis denied that the request was a scare tactic, instead saying that something has to be done when education comes to a halt.
"Yes, teachers have the constitutional right to be in Frankfort to register their opposition," Lewis said," but teachers do not have the constitutional right to call in sick when you are not sick and force a work stoppage that results in Kentucky schools closing."
Lewis said he has not asked for names of teachers who were in Frankfort, but information on people who had called in sick. He continued to say that he wants to have a conversation around the policies that verify teacher absences.
"When teachers call in sick or go online to register a sick day, you are in fact creating a record and saying you are sick," Lewis said. "If you are not sick, you should not be doing that."
After the conference, the KEA released a statement saying they want to believe that Lewis' goal was not to punish teachers who called in sick, but said the request could "compile a enemies list of educators" for the Bevin administration.
"This tactic serves only one purpose — to intimidate educators, public employees, school board members and superintendents across the Commonwealth and keep them from speaking out," the statement said.
In response, democratic candidate for governor Adam Edelen filed an open records request for information regarding days Lewis called in sick. Edelen called the original request intrusive and an attempt to intimidate teachers for Governor Bevin.
“If we take Dr. Lewis at his word that all this is trying to do is collect information, then surely he has no issue providing that same information to the taxpayers," Edelen said, "But he’s not, he’s trying to intimidate state workers and carrying water for a governor dead-set on doing everything he can to make teachers pay a price for standing up for themselves.”
In addition to JCPS, districts in Bath, Boyd, Bullitt, Carter, Fayette, Jefferson, Letcher, Madison, Marion and Oldham County were asked for sick leave information.
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