KY education commissioner demands teacher attendance records in wake of sickouts

Teachers packed the committee meeting room where House Bill 525 was discussed.
Teachers packed the committee meeting room where House Bill 525 was discussed.(WAVE 3 News)
Updated: Mar. 14, 2019 at 10:17 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The Kentucky Department of Education wants a list of teachers who called in sick since Feb. 28, 2019 -- when the first teacher sickout of the year closed school districts in the state.

Education commissioner Wayne Lewis said he wants to ensure state law is upheld.

Teachers called in sick to protest in Frankfort in large numbers. Educators said they worried about bills they felt would negatively impact public education in the state.

The KDE sent an email to 10 school districts Thursday: Bath, Boyd, Bullitt, Carter, Fayette, Jefferson, Letcher, Madison, Marion and Oldham.

The content of the email requested the following, according to the KDE:

  1. The names of all teachers that called in sick for February 28, March 5-7, and/or March 12-14, 2019 and the day(s) for which each teacher called in sick;
  2. Any and all affidavits or certificates of a reputable physician stating that the employee was ill or caring for an ill family member on the days the employee called in sick, as required by KRS 161.155 for the granting of any sick leave; and
  3. Documentation of the district’s policies, procedures, and/or protocols for collecting sick leave affidavits or certifications and verifying qualification for the granting of sick leave.

The email said records must be handed over by March 18.

“The Kentucky Department of Education takes the closing of schools very seriously,” Lewis said in an email. “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. Most Kentucky districts have managed to make that avenue available without work stoppages and have continued to serve students.”

The KDE said state law stipulates that Lewis has access to teachers’ records and records of any public school officials.

If he finds a violation has occurred, the KDE said they will notify the county or Commonwealth’s attorneys in the county or district where it happened.

The Kentucky Education Association (KEA) issued the following response to the KDE demand for records:

"Governor Bevin, Commissioner Lewis and some legislators are publicly taking educators to task for calling in sick to come to Frankfort to defend public education and their livelihoods. They argue that what educators are doing is inappropriate and illegal, and that they should be disciplined for it. What they fail to recognize is that their educator constituents and their families simply do not trust them. Given the General Assembly’s recent history with HB 151, educators have no reason to believe public statements that are being made about what will or won’t happen this session. Educators know from experience that the General Assembly bears watching, particularly during the closing days of the session.

“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. 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. We hope that all superintendents recognize that such a show of political force by public school employees is a gesture of support for public school students, parents, school boards and school administrations all across the state. The educators who have come to Frankfort are teaching the most important lesson of all: one must stand up for one’s principles even in the face of powerful opposition.”

JCTA sent an e-mail to union members, saying in part:

“JCTA does not believe that a teacher should have to provide an affidavit of sick leave on a day when school was closed. If you are asked to provide an affidavit of sick leave or a doctor's statement, please contact JCTA immediately (502-454-3400)!”

A rep for JCPS said they received Lewis’ request and are reviewing it.

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