Teachers protest multiple education bills in their fourth sickout of 2019. | Photo by Olivia Krauth

This story has been updated with comment from Wayne Lewis.

Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis should withdraw his request for the names of teachers who sparked sickouts this month, the Jefferson County Board of Education said Tuesday.

In a resolution passed unanimously, the school board cited fears of retribution against teachers while asking Lewis to withdraw only one part of his larger request: That of specific names for teachers who called in sick to protest. Otherwise, the district is legally obligated to fulfill Lewis’ request.

Board members are “highly concerned” about interruptions to student learning, the resolution reads, and will work to prevent them with all stakeholders.

“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 says.

Lewis said in a statement shortly after the decision that he will not withdraw the request, but will not punish teachers who called in.

“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,” Lewis said.

The resolution comes a day after Jefferson County Public Schools requested and got a five-day extension to hand over teacher names to the state, citing voluminous records handled by a third-party vendor, on Monday. Since school was canceled, JCPS didn’t collect doctors notes or affidavits for those teachers, Superintendent Marty Pollio said.

Should Lewis not withdraw his request, JCPS will have to supply the names of teachers who called in sick on all of the six district closures by next Monday.

Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis asked 10 districts, including JCPS, for the names of teachers who called in the days of sickouts, plus any documentation to prove illness and district policies governing sick leave. He told reporters last week he hopes to use the information to develop a way to avoid similar district-closing protests in the future — not to punish teachers.

But he declined to say why he needed specific names — a concern the board found insufficient and played into Tuesday’s resolution and counter-request. Lewis’ initial request and “subsequent comments” sparked “significant concerns among teachers regarding retribution,” the board’s resolution said.

Lewis’ move could “strain the relationship between JCPS teachers and the Superintendent,” hindering work on the district’s corrective action plan with the state and on student achievement, the resolution says. It could also have a “negative impact on teacher morale,” the board said. 

Backing those fears, JCPS teachers union president Brent McKim said teachers are “very concerned” about the request and potentially losing their jobs.

Lewis’ request, initially announced Thursday, quickly drew criticism from teachers, their union and some school board members. The critiques continued after JCPS announced it intends to comply with the request, with some asking the district to not give Lewis anything he asked for.

One day — March 28 — remains in the legislative session. At least one group, Dear JCPS, posted plans for a rally in Frankfort that day, but it is unclear if a seventh sickout will be called.

This story will be updated.