KDE chief defends request for teacher sickout records: ‘Not a scare tactic’

Education commissioner wants names of teachers who participated in sickouts

FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - The leader of the Kentucky Department of Education is requesting the names of all the teachers who called out sick while protests were happening in Frankfort over the last two weeks.

“Kids’ education in a community has come to a halt; something has to be done,” Education Commissioner Dr. Wayne Lewis said.

At a news conference Friday, Lewis said he isn’t sure what needs to be done just yet. But, he said it starts with reviewing the records.

On Thursday, he sent requests to superintendents at 10 Kentucky school districts for the names of all teachers who called in sick on each day of the recent sickouts. He also requested any doctors’ notes concerning those employees and the districts’ policies regarding sick leave. The Kentucky Education Association issued the following in response:

"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?"

Lewis denied any influence from Gov. Matt Bevin.

“I think if I sharpened a pencil, people would say Gov. Bevin told me to do it,” Lewis said. “In fact, I haven’t talked to the governor in two months.”

The KEA has defended state educators who protested, saying they shouldn’t be forced to choose between keeping their livelihood and exercising their constitutional rights.

Lewis said educators protesting in Frankfort isn’t what he takes issue with.

“Neither teachers nor do I have the constitutional right to call out sick when you’re not sick, and the assertion that they do or that any of us do is ridiculous,” Lewis said. “I didn’t even ask for this information until this had gone on for six days over the last two weeks.”

Jefferson County is the only district that was out that long, but Lewis said he wants records from nine other districts, too, including Bullit, Marion and Oldham counties.

“Dr. Lewis gave no explanation as to why he needed these teacher names,” Sen. Morgan McGarvey said. “It’s clearly an intimidation tactic. He couldn’t provide any information to the contrary, which only lends truth to that assertion.”

According to KDE, after the board’s review of the records, the county attorney would be notified if a violation occurred.

“I’ve not recommended any repercussions for anybody,” Lewis said. “I’ve not recommended consequences, I’ve not talked about charges being filed, all I’ve asked for is information at this point.”

Lewis said he could not definitively say that disciplinary action won’t be taken, but said it is not his goal.

“My goal is to end up in a place where teachers can voice their opposition and dissent when need be in Frankfort, without resulting in work stoppages where kids are deprived of instructional days,” Lewis said.

Lewis said he wants the records handed over by Monday. He said several superintendents, including JCPS Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio, have been in touch and none so far has refused to comply.

JCTA said in a statement that if members are contacted about their use of sick days, they should immediately contact union staff. JCTA said it will be with members every step of the way if they are impacted by this.

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