UPDATE | Ky. Dept. of Education wants names of teachers from 'sick out'
Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis criticized teachers using "sickouts" to cancel classes during the legislative session in a Friday news conference.
Lewis said teachers don't have a constitutional right to call in sick when they are not sick in an effort to force a work stoppage. This comes after Jefferson County Public Schools were closed several days in a two-week period as hundreds went to Frankfort to demonstrate at the State Capitol.
The education commissioner asked for records on Feb. 28, Mar. 5-7 and Mar. 12-14 for school districts that canceled classes those days. 10 school districts received the request: Bath, Boyd, Bullitt, Carter, Fayette, Jefferson, Letcher, Madison, Marion and Oldham.
Lewis said in the news conference he asked for information in an effort to prevent school districts closing because of the state legislature. He stated he supports teachers coming together, but he wants districts to work with teachers to ensure classes still happen.
He expressed concerns about lengthier shutdowns if lawmakers take up the state's pension system later this year.
"Maybe we shut down schools for three months," Lewis said.
The Kentucky Education Association defended teachers, saying lawmakers' actions in the 2018 session regarding pension reform led to mistrust. The organization says it is possible superintendents could take disciplinary action against teachers who went to Frankfort when taking a sick day, but it hopes superintendents won't take those steps.
The KEA released the following statement Friday:
"At his press conference earlier today, Commissioner Lewis said that his demand for the names of educators who called in sick on specific days of the legislative session is not a scare tactic. But all educators, including the school administrators who received the Commissioner’s “requests” through his general counsel, know better. By requesting this information through his attorney and citing his broad investigatory and subpoena powers under KRS 156.210, the Commissioner is using the power of his office to compile an “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. Each school district determines their sick leave policies and practices in compliance with the applicable statute. Commissioner Lewis claims that he wants it to remain a local issue, but his heavy-handed exercise of state oversight authority speaks otherwise. We also want to believe the Commissioner when he says that it’s not his goal to discipline individual teachers who called in sick. But if that’s not his goal, then what is he trying to achieve? Who is he targeting? And why now?"
The Kentucky Department of Education wants the names of every teacher who has called in sick, forcing hundreds of schools to close across the state.
Kentucky's largest school district closed Thursday for the sixth time in two weeks as teachers continued to protest at the state Capitol. The department sent a letter to 10 school districts on Thursday asking them for teachers' names and any affidavits or doctor's notes.
Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said the department takes the closing of schools "very seriously." A news release from the department says state officials will review the information and report findings to the state Board of Education.
Jefferson County Teachers Association President Brent McKim said the union would represent any member who faces a disciplinary action.