FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – Somewhere in Kentucky children were sexually assaulted, exposed to drugs or hurt because schools were closed Friday as teachers across the state rallied at the Capitol, Gov. Matt Bevin told reporters Friday night.

Bevin’s comments came after thousands of teachers swarmed the Capitol, most of them hoping lawmakers would override his vetoes on budget and revenue bills. The House and Senate ultimately overturned those decisions, but Bevin said children across the state suffered after several school districts closed either to allow teachers to attend Friday’s events or because enough teachers absences triggered closures.

“I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them,” the governor told a group of reporters outside the Capitol. “I guarantee you somewhere today a child was physically harmed or ingested poison because they were home alone because a single parent didn’t have any money to take care of them. I’m offended by the idea that people so cavalierly and so flippantly disregarded what’s truly best for children."


The remarks drew a backlash, both in Kentucky and elsewhere. Republican state Sen. Max Wise of Campbellsville, the Senate Education Committee chairman, said on Twitter that the governor's remarks were "disgusting." 

"The disgusting comments by Gov. Bevin insinuating that a peaceful protest by teachers would lead to sexual assault are reprehensible," Wise tweeted. "I don't agree with these comments & I find them repulsive."

Sen. Morgan McGarvey, a Louisville Democrat, described the governor's remarks on Twitter as "an outrageous and unsubstantiated slander of a group of people who dedicate their lives to teaching and caring for our kids." He added later Friday night: "I can't think of a word strong enough to condemn the governor's reprehensible comments."

Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said on Twitter Saturday morning that Bevin's comments amounted to "needlessly and unjustly demonizing" teachers. 

The legislature's Democratic caucuses issued statements Saturday rebuking Bevin.

House Democrats called the remarks "reprehensible" and defended the gathering on Friday and throughout the 2018 General Assembly.

"Our educators and public workers have every right to make their voice heard, and we are deeply proud of the way they have carried themselves throughout this legislative session.  Governor Bevin is on the wrong side of history, and as his latest outburst shows, he’s also on the wrong side of simple decency," they said. 

Senate Democrats said they condemn "these types of demeaning and degrading statements directed at our teachers and public employees by the Governor.”

The Republican Party of Kentucky had no plans to issue a statement or comment on the governor's remarks, spokesman Tres Watson said in a text message Saturday afternoon. 

Attorney General Andy Beshear also weighed in on Saturday, saying Bevin's comments "are morally reprehensible and must be condemned by all Kentuckians."

"The Office of the Attorney General fights every day to protect our children and has arrested a record number of predators and human traffickers," Beshear said in a statement. "Our prevention training efforts have reached more than 3,000 Kentuckians. If we want to create a world without child abuse, we cannot tolerate  the governor's comments."

When asked by a WDRB News reporter about the teachers who rallied on Friday, Bevin spent more than a minute describing how he believed the closed schools may have contributed to people preying on children.

“You know how many children live in urban communities and rural communities where there’s a single parent who literally if they could afford to skip work and not lose their job, they couldn’t afford to because they need the money. They don’t have a backup for them. They don’t get paid whether they go to work or not," Bevin said. "They don’t have an option, and some of them were given literally a matter of hours, so you know for a fact that there were hundreds of thousands of children who were left unattended, and some of them in communities where people knew that for a fact and took advantage of them, and as surely as we’re having this conversation, children were harmed, some physically, some sexually, some were introduced to drugs for the first time because they were vulnerable and left alone.”

A number of districts closed schools on Friday, including Jefferson County Public Schools and Fayette County Public Schools. More than 2,500 teachers called in absences in advance at the Louisville school system, which has more than 100,000 students.

Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, called Bevin’s remarks “the most reprehensible comments that he’s made yet.”

“And they serve to discourage anyone from wanting to be a teacher in Kentucky when the governor is bashing them on an almost daily basis,” McKim told WDRB News.

McKim said Bevin’s comments left him stunned, sentiments he’s heard shared by JCTA members who contacted him after watching video of the governor’s remarks.

“With that reasoning we would never have any vacation or breaks in school, and who knows what would happen in the summer,” he said. “… School districts, I think, worked very hard to give parents as much notice as they could and be very considerate of families that way, and the bottom line is the governor is talking about one day where teachers went to Frankfort to advocate for their students. He was proposing cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from funding for those kids every day of the school year, and the harm that would do is hard to even imagine.

“That’s why teachers were in Frankfort, not to stand up for themselves, but to stand up for funding for their schools and their kids so they’d have what they need to help them be successful.”

Officials with the Kentucky Education Association did not immediately return messages seeking comment. JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio declined to comment.

The Kentucky Democratic Party released a statement Friday night in regards to Bevin's comments:

“It’s entirely inappropriate and perverse that the man sitting in the governorship would criticize Kentuckians who stood up today for teachers, public employees and our public education by insinuating that their presence in Frankfort today caused a child to be sexual assaulted,” Kentucky Democratic Executive Director Mary Nishimuta said. “His insults of teachers over the last year have been beneath the decorum of any respectable elected official. This rhetoric has crossed a line. As a mother, suggesting children were abused as a prop for his political rhetoric is disturbing and absurdly in poor taste.”

Below is a full transcript of Bevin's comments:

"You know, here's what's crazy to me. You know how many hundreds of thousands of children today were left home alone? I guarantee somewhere in Kentucky today a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them. I guarantee you somewhere today a child was physically harmed or ingested poison because they were home alone because a single parent didn't have any money to take care of them. I'm offended by the idea that people so cavalierly and so flippantly disregarded what's truly best for children. You know how many children live in urban communities and rural communities where there's a single parent who literally, if they could afford to skip work and not lose their job, they couldn't afford to because they need the money. They don't have a backup for them. They don't get paid whether they go to work or not, they don't have an option and some of them were given literally a matter of hours. So, you know for a fact that their were hundreds of thousands of children who were left unattended and some of them in communities where people knew that for a fact and took advantage of it. And as surely as we're having this conversation, children were harmed, some physically, some sexually, some were introduced to drugs for the first time because they were vulnerable and left alone. It's offensive, frankly. It really is. If you want to write a story that's the kind of thing you should talk about." 

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