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Kentucky Attorney General Sues To Block Teacher Subpoenas

AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley
Kentucky Democratic candidate for Governor Attorney General Andy Beshear, responds during a debate at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., Wednesday, April 24, 2019.

Kentucky's attorney general is trying to block subpoenas issued by Gov. Matt Bevin's administration as part of an investigation into teacher sickouts that shut down schools.

Attorney General Andy Beshear filed a lawsuit Monday to try to block the subpoenas.

It's the latest round in Beshear's feud with the governor — which could be settled at the ballot box. Bevin, a Republican, is running for reelection this year. Beshear is running in the Democratic primary for governor next month.

Beshear on Monday followed through on his threat to take Bevin to court if his administration didn't rescind subpoenas that the state Labor Cabinet sent to several school districts.

"This type of retaliation, intimidation and threats by a governor and his administration must not be allowed," Beshear told reporters Monday. "The bully pulpit was never meant to bully."

Responding via Twitter on Monday, Bevin's chief of staff, Blake Brickman, said the lawsuit shows that Beshear is "more concerned about politics than the law."

"His fear-mongering rhetoric about fining teachers is false, and no such decision has been made or will be made until after the Office of the Inspector General completes its lawful investigation," Brickman said.

Beshear said the subpoenas are unlawful because the sickouts were not related to teachers' employment conditions. Teachers used sick days to close schools to rally against several education bills being considered by state lawmakers this year. The measures included one that would have indirectly supported private schools with tax credits for scholarship funds.

The teachers' rallies amounted to constitutionally protected free speech, Beshear said.

The Labor Cabinet has the authority to investigate illegal work stoppages and to issue individual fines to those found to have been involved.

Beshear said he is seeking a temporary restraining order to block the subpoenas, and said his legal team will seek a May 6 hearing on the request in Franklin County Circuit Court.

The Jefferson County Teachers Association, which represents teachers in Kentucky's most populous county, joined Beshear in filing the lawsuit.

Widespread absences in some school districts forced cancellation of classes for up to a few days while teachers converged on Kentucky's Capitol earlier this year, drawing Bevin's criticism.

The protests were part of a wave of teacher activism across the country that began last year in West Virginia and spread to other states, including Oklahoma and Arizona.

In its recent subpoena to Jefferson County Public Schools, which covers Louisville and is the state's largest district, the Labor Cabinet asked school officials for records giving the names of employees who called in sick on dates when sickouts occurred in late February and March.

It also sought any documentation that teachers provided to prove they were sick, including doctors' notes. The Cabinet also wanted copies of the district's sick leave policies and copies of records in which district officials discussed the decision to close schools due to sickouts.

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