This post has been updated.
Education commissioner Wayne Lewis is taking names.
After six teacher sickouts shut down Jefferson County Public Schools, Lewis has requested the names of teachers responsible, the state department of education said Thursday.
First reported by The Courier Journal, Lewis asked for the attendance records of teachers in 10 districts affected by a wave of teacher activism. JCPS is one of those districts.
“While it is important that administrators, teachers and students make their voices heard about issues related to public education policy, advocacy should under no circumstances be putting a stop to learning for entire communities,” Lewis said in a statement. “Most Kentucky districts have managed to make that avenue available without work stoppages and have continued to serve students.”
Specifically, Lewis and KDE requested the names of all teachers who called in sick on each of the six sickout days, doctors’ notes or affidavits proving illness and copies of district policies governing the collection of such notes, KDE said.
One potential issue: Per their contracts with the district, every certified teacher in the district can take up to three consecutive sick days before they’re required to produce a doctor’s note. No stretch of protests lasted over three days.
Union president Brent McKim signaled the three-day rule is the standard operating procedure, but teachers can give personal affidavits stating they were sick for stretches under three days.
KDE’s request asks for both forms of documentation, but since the district was technically closed, teachers did not submit said forms. Teachers also did not lose a sick day if they called out before a district closed, district officials have said.
“JCTA does not believe that a teacher should have to provide an affidavit of sick leave on a day when school was closed,” the union wrote in an email to its members Thursday night. “If you are asked to provide an affidavit of sick leave or a doctor’s appointment, please contact JCTA immediately!”
Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler said in a statement it is possible districts could take disciplinary action against teachers who called out — but hoped they wouldn’t.
“Making educators — who are all citizens of this Commonwealth — choose between keeping their livelihood and exercising their constitutional rights is despicable,” Winkler said. “The educators who have come to Frankfort are teaching the most important lesson of all: one must stand up for one’s principles even in the face of powerful opposition.”
Teachers were quick to criticize the decision, calling it a “scare tactic” and retribution for the failure of scholarship tax credit legislation. A few were undeterred by the announcement, with one teacher tweeting, “Right here!”
JCPS board member Chris Brady swiftly defended teachers, tweeting “Not if I have anything to say about it” in response to the news. Board vice chairman Chris Kolb also ran to the defense: “I, too, want a lot of things there’s no chance in hell I’m getting.”
It is unclear how districts will respond to the requests, which require a response by March 18. A JCPS spokeswoman said they “just received the email this afternoon and we are reviewing it.”
Some wondered if the move violates privacy laws regarding medical information. In its release, KDE said Lewis has the legal authority to access all teacher and district records per KRS 156.010 and 156.210.
Media lawyer Michael Abate, who works frequently with open records, says doctor’s notes are not protected by HIPAA and could be given to Lewis.
The latter requires him to bring violations of misconduct to the Kentucky Board of Education, who can then bring in either a county or Commonwealth attorney to aid in the “indictment, prosecution, and conviction of the accused.”