Kentucky Cracks Down On Teacher ‘Sickouts’

Kentucky teachers protest in Frankfort last April

As teachers’ strikes are causing kids to miss school around the country, Kentucky’s Education Commissioner says ‘enough is enough.’

As government employees, as it is in several other states where teacher strikes have occurred, teachers in Kentucky do not have the legal right to strike.

However, that is not stopping teachers—whose pension plan is massively underfunded—from engaging in what labor practitioners engage in “sickouts” as a form of protest.

Image Credit: Photo by Adam Beam/AP/REX/Shutterstock (9485141a)
Whitney Walker, second left, and Tracy Kurzendoerfer protest outside of Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s office on in Frankfort, Ky. Walker and Kurzendoerfer are teachers in Fayette County. Both called in sick on Friday to protest a bill lawmakers passed late Thursday that makes changes to the state’s pension system. The district was one of several forced to close because of the number of teacher absences
Teachers Protest, Frankfort, USA – 30 Mar 2018

As a result of teacher sickouts in Kentucky, schools have repeatedly closed and ACT testing has even been cancelled, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, the state’s largest district with 98,000 students, schools were closed for six days in a two-week span from the end of February through mid-March due to sickouts.

“It was just disheartening in so many ways. We have been doing practice test after practice test,” said Terri Hixenbaugh, a parent whose daughter was notified the night before she was due to take the ACT test that it was cancelled.

Now, however, Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis has demanded the names of teachers who have been calling in sick and wants to ensure their “sick days” are being docked for using their sick days.

“At this point, my intention is to collect information to make sure state laws have been and are continuing to be upheld,” Lewis told the Courier Journal earlier this month. “I have no other purposes beyond that right now.”

“If you are going to call in sick, then you need to be sick,” Dr. Lewis said in an interview. “Our position has been that kids need to be in schools.”

State law grants Lewis the authority to report teacher misconduct to the Kentucky Board of Education, notes the Courier Journal. If Lewis feels he has enough evidence to prove teachers misused sick leave, he could recommend that their licenses be suspended or revoked.

On Monday, to shield teachers’ names from being made public under the state’s Open Records Act, Jefferson County Public Schools gave the state a “preliminary list.”

Lewis had also requested districts’ sick leave policies, as well as any documentation submitted by teachers to prove they were actually sick.

However, several districts said that they could not respond to the request, the Courier Journal reported, “because once school was called off, teachers’ sick leave requests became moot.”

Earlier this month, the Jefferson County Public Schools board passed a resolution requesting that Dr. Lewis withdraw his request for the records, according to the Wall Street Journal, saying teachers should be allowed to advocate for their profession without fear of retribution.

Dr. Lewis refused.


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