Lewis doubles down on request for names of sickout teachers, says ‘no disciplinary action will be taken’

Teachers have flocked to Frankfort over the past two weeks to protest these controversial...
Teachers have flocked to Frankfort over the past two weeks to protest these controversial bills. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Updated: Mar. 19, 2019 at 7:34 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The Kentucky Department of Education still wants a list of teachers who participated in sickouts that closed school districts across the state, despite a request to drop the issue from Jefferson County Public School officials.

In a special meeting of the JCPS Board of Education on Tuesday, board members issued a resolution asking Education Commissioner Dr. Wayne Lewis to withdraw his request for that list of names.

Lewis quickly responded, saying he still wants names, but promises to not punish those teachers if school remains in session.

The following statement was given to WAVE 3 News from his office:

“I maintain the request for names but I will definitively state that no disciplinary action will be taken against teachers if there are no further work stoppages. The agreement between JCPS and JCTA proved to not be enough to keep schools open and Jefferson County students missed six days in two weeks. We are requesting this information so that we can have assurance that districts have policies in place to protect school days and students instructional time. In the coming days I’ll be reviewing the submissions from districts to determine if all have sound policies in place and to determine whether next steps are needed. The bottom line is kids need to be in school.”

Board chairwoman Diane Porter said teachers are worried they will be punished by the state for calling in sick on the days in question. On those seven days, educators flooded Frankfort to protest legislation they thought would be harmful to public schools in Kentucky.

Porter read the resolution aloud during the meeting Tuesday, saying the board supports the teachers’ efforts and does not want them to be punished.

“The JCBE believes that the educational interests of Jefferson County students are best served by allowing teachers to focus on their profession, including advocacy in their profession’s best interests, without the fear of retribution,” the resolution reads.

But the resolution also said the board would try to minimize missed days of school.

They are looking to collaborate with “teachers, the KDE and state legislators to make it possible for teachers to effectively exercise their rights without interruptions to student learning,” the resolution reads.

The resolution also thanked JCPS teachers “who routinely contribute more than the 187 day contracted yearly requirement.”

One day after the state’s deadline, JCPS shared its initial letter of response to Lewis, in which it asked for an extension.

In the letter, Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio said the district is working to compile the list of names of teachers who called in sick on days of staged sickouts.

JCPS said it uses a third-party vendor to handle teachers’ request for sick days, and that vendor needs more time to pull the records for the requested dates.

“On the days in question, the requests for leave numbered in the thousands,” Pollio wrote in his response.

Pollio asked for an extension of five business days to come up with the names.

Lewis also requested any notes from doctors that proved teachers were sick on the days they called in, closing school.

Pollio’s response in the letter stated that since school was closed on the days in question, the teachers were not required to provide a sick note and therefore there are none.

“As I have state publicly, JCPS could not conduct school safely on those days due to the predicted number of teacher absences that exceeded our available supply of substitute teachers,” Pollio wrote. “Because school was canceled on those days, the requested leave of certified school-based employees became moot when those days became non-contract days.”

Bullitt County and Oldham County Public Schools, two other districts included in Lewis’ request for records, have also asked for a deadline extension.

Gov. Matt Bevin weighed in on the issue on WVHU radio in Ashland on Tuesday.

He said many of the teachers who called in sick didn’t even show up to protest and they’re just lying in order to get what they want.

“They’re not allowed to go on strike but they are allowed to lie about being sick and unfortunately it’s a bad example to send to young people,” Bevin said. “The idea that you can get away with something as long as it’s what you want, and you can lie if you need to in order to get what you want, is not necessarily the kind of life lesson we should be teaching.”

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