Wayne Lewis, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education, speaks at a Louisville Forum in June. | Photo by Boris Ladwig

A Jefferson County Public Schools teacher is under review from the district after an email he sent to the education commissioner last week partially sparked cries for civility.

Kumar Rashad, a high school math teacher, told Insider Louisville he hadn’t heard of anything from JCPS regarding potential discipline over his email as of Monday morning. Later in the day, JCPS Spokeswoman Renee Murphy said that the district is reviewing the matter.

Rashad, who serves on JCPS’ racial equity policy council, used his official JCPS email account to write to Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis on Nov. 15. “Nobody wants funding for charter schools except people who don’t care about brown and black kids,” he wrote.

“This is disgraceful and disrespects all great black leaders current and past,” Rashad continued. “ALL Reputable Research shows that charter schools devastate minority communities. Systemic racism perpetrated by a man of color is the same reasoning that made some people of color become overseers during slavery. Sorry for bothering you with this ‘Massa’ >: (.”

Since the email was published in full Saturday by the Courier Journal, he’s received support from other teachers, he said. He didn’t receive a direct response from Lewis.

The email, along with one other from a Kentucky teacher, prompted Lewis to call for civil discourse in a mass email to all Kentucky teachers.

“This week, I’ve received the most hateful and disrespectful emails I’ve ever been sent, from people who teach Kentucky children,” Lewis wrote in an email on Friday. “While I am well aware that some disagree with me on various issues — and have every right to disagree — I believe we can and should have civil conversations without being disrespectful.”

Shortly after media outlets wrote about Lewis’ email Saturday, Rashad said his email “was not nasty” in a public Facebook post.

“What’s nasty are his ideas for graduation and charter schools,” he wrote. “Quit crying you old puppet! Cant kick us and expect us not to scream. No apologies.”

The president of the teachers union, Brent McKim, said he was unaware of any discipline for Rashad on Monday.

Brent McKim

“The Association certainly believes all educational stakeholders should engage in civil dialogue regarding the issues we face,” McKim said in an email. “I would advise Dr. Lewis, Mr. Rashad, and all other public employees to save their edgier emails for after work and only send them using their personal email accounts.”

Kira Hesse, a Meade County teacher who wrote the other email indirectly referenced by Lewis, was fired after Lewis forwarded her comments to the district’s superintendent, according to the Courier Journal. She is contesting the decision.

“We don’t like your agenda,” Hesse wrote to Lewis in a Nov. 9 email. “We don’t want your business please go back to where you came from. You and your butt buddies can go ruin another state. You’ll answer to the Lord one day and you know what’s going to happen if you don’t change your ways.”

State education officials believe the emails were sparked by Lewis saying he would ask for a funding mechanism for charter schools in the coming legislative session. The news, which broke earlier in November, was officially shared in a past Kentucky Teacher email.

“We of course receive lots of communications about various policy issues, but rarely do they cross the line like these two did,” Jessica Fletcher, Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman, said in an email.

A divisive issue in Kentucky, charter schools have been legal since 2017 but none have opened, mainly because of a lack of a long-term funding mechanism.

Advocates, including Lewis, say the school type can help reduce achievement gaps and better serve African-American students. Critics disagree, typically arguing charters pull money from already underfunded traditional public schools.

A little over half of adults approve of charters, according to a 2017 survey by the University of Southern California referenced by Fletcher. Rashad mentioned the same survey in a call with Insider, arguing that the decision to use charters should focus on evidence of success and not potentially unfounded opinion.

While several teachers and education stakeholders seemed to support Lewis’ call to civility in weekend social media posts, some pointed to what they consider Lewis’ own uncivil discourse in the past.

Wayne Lewis

In an April email to Lewis, a state education board member, Ben Cundiff, said teachers who successfully lobbied against a charter funding mechanism in 2018 “murdered the underserved kids of Louisville and Lexington.” Lewis responded, saying “I feel the same way.” He later told WDRB he was agreeing with the thought behind the remarks and not the actual words.

“I don’t believe Dr. Lewis has much room to talk when he participates in email exchanges like that using his state email account,” McKim said Monday, referencing the exchange in light of the calls for civility.

Rashad also referenced the April remark in an interview with Insider, calling the suggestion that people who do not support charter schools are “murdering” children “crazy.”

When asked for reaction to the April email, Fletcher said Lewis was unable for comment and directed Insider to comments from Lewis’ August State of Education address supporting a high-quality education.

“Getting a high-quality education can be the difference between life and death,” Lewis said, referencing a Louisville student who survived a gun shot. “That’s what I think about when I hear us get consumed with education decisions that are about adults, instead of about kids.”