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Education Commissioner: No Discipline For Sick-Out Teachers — If School Closures Stop

Josh James

Kentucky’s top education official is promising no disciplinary action is in store for teachers who took part in multiple "sick-outs" over the last few weeks, but the assurance comes with an asterisk. 

In a statement, state Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said he will not rescind his request for names, but he would "definitively state that no disciplinary action will be taken against teachers if there are no further work stoppages."

That pledge comes after the Jefferson County Board of Education pressed Lewis on Tuesday to drop his demand for information regarding teacher leave during recent vocal demonstrations in Frankfort. The county’s schools shut down six times over two weeks as teachers flocked to the Capitolto protest a number of bills they feared could affect public school funding and the composition of the board overseeing teacher pensions, among other issues. 

The Courier Journalreports the JCPS board signed off on a resolution Tuesday that backed teachers’ First Amendment rights, adding the educational interests of students are best served by allowing teachers to focus on their jobs – and advocacy – without “fear of retribution.”

Lewis has requested documents from 10 districts, saying it’s his goal not to punish teachers but to avoid further shutdowns.

Kentucky’s legislative session is currently on hiatus while Governor Matt Bevin mulls vetoes, but the executive weighed in on the sick-outs again during an appearance on West Virginia's WVHU.

"So now (teachers) are all worked up because the commissioner of education is saying, 'I want to know who called in sick and where were they'... they realize their gig [sic] is up," he 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 that we should be teaching our young people." 

Speaking at protests on the 29th day of the 30-day session, Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler said teachers' presence at the Capitol wasn't just about the particular bills. 

"We're here ultimately to do what's best for students," she told WUKY. "And lots of people in the community may not understand why these things impact their students, but that's why we're here. Because we do."

Lawmakers gavel in for one final working day on March 28.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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