Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear says the state Labor Cabinet is violating teachers’ free speech rights by issuing subpoenas to several school districts seeking information about teachers who called in sick during recent protests at the Capitol. And he’s giving the governor 10 days to rescind the document requests.
"The subpoenas here are not lawful," Beshear told reporters Tuesday. "That's because what the teachers were engaged in is protected First Amendment speech. They were not protesting their own work conditions. They were not protesting their own pay. Intsead, they were protesting structural, financial, and overall issues in the education system, particularly the siphoning of public school funds in the form of tax credits to private schools."
For that reason, the Democrat said teachers did not break state law that bars them from striking. Citations for violating the law can run as high as $1,000.
Teacher absences forced the sporadic closure of number of school districts during the final weeks of the 2019 legislative session. Eight districts, including Fayette, closed for only one day, while Bullitt and Jefferson closed their doors for multiple days. State officials have since sought teacher leave records, medical affivadvits confirming illnesses, and other documents from the districts.
Beshear said the subpoenas raise a conflict.
"The speech here was teachers' speech against our state government and what it was doing, and now that same state government is trying to step in front of the school districts to punish the teachers for the very speech against the state government," the top law official argued.
Gov. Matt Bevin has said he was not part of the decision to issue the subpoenas.
Both Beshear and Gov. Matt Bevin are running for governor this year. The former has made the teacher pension issue a central message of his campaign.