FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – Educators who call out sick and show up to protest at the Capitol could face disciplinary action even if their school districts close due to teacher shortages, according to a legal opinion from the Kentucky Education Association.
The opinion, sought by the Jefferson County Teachers Association, comes amid the fifth "sick out" at Jefferson County Public Schools in less than two weeks as teachers protest bills they say would hurt public education in Kentucky if passed.
"We always advocate and instruct our members that calling in sick when you're not sick is something that you could definitely be subject to disciplinary action for," KEA President Stephanie Winkler told WDRB News Wednesday.
JCTA President Brent McKim confirmed the legal opinion but deferred comment on the matter to Winkler, who said KEA members have always been advised of the legal risks of using sick leave to protest at the Capitol.
"Everyone obviously knows when they call in for any kind of leave day, but especially a sick day, that they are required to sign an affidavit, and if you violate that affidavit there are consequences," Winkler said. "That's always been the case, and there's been plenty of cases before that have had that discipline applied."
It's unclear whether JCPS teachers who call out sick risk disciplinary action. JCPS Communications Director Renee Murphy said the district's current policy does not require teachers to actually take a sick day when enough call in to trigger a closure.
Winkler said any disciplinary action would be up to superintendents.
"But I also advocate for the right for people to use their voice when they see clear threats to public education," said Winkler.
Neither KEA nor JCTA called for the so-called "sick outs" but supported teachers who showed up at the Capitol.
Whether the legal opinion will chill future efforts to close school districts remains to be seen.
An administrator with JCPS Leads, a grassroots Facebook group that helped mobilize Jefferson County teachers recently, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
"We've never condoned the 'sick outs' because we understand the consequences, but we can't control what other people do," Winkler said.
"But we understand that public education is a deeply important issue to educators, and we take it very seriously," she added. "When they feel that public education or their school district is being threatened, it is within their right to take action and voice their opinions."
On Wednesday evening, a group of Louisville lawmakers -- both Republican and Democrat -- released a statement about education-related bills that triggered teacher sick outs.
Sen. Julie Raque Adams, Rep. Joni Jenkins, Rep. Jason Nemes, and Sen. Morgan McGarvey said:
Shortly after, JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio tweeted: "I appreciate the leadership of this bipartisan group."
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