LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Kentucky Labor Cabinet has subpoenaed Jefferson County Public Schools and other school districts for more information on the "sick outs" that shuttered the state's largest school district six times in a two-week period.
The cabinet, in its subpoena to JCPS obtained by WDRB News through an open records request, wants the district to produce the names of teachers who requested sick leave during the sick outs, any records demonstrating attempts by those teachers to request sick leave, any affidavits filed by employees who sought sick leave, the district's sick leave policies and any documentation of discussions by JCPS officials on whether to cancel school during the sick outs.
The Labor Cabinet, through its inspector general's office, said in the subpoena that it is investigating possible violations of state law regarding work stoppages by public workers.
The cabinet wants that information, which largely mirrors that requested by Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis, by 9 a.m. May 10.
Lewis previously requested the names of teachers who asked for sick leave along with districts' policies on sick leave and any documentation submitted by those who asked for time off.
JCPS Communications Director Renee Murphy confirmed that JCPS received the cabinet's subpoena Wednesday.
Oldham County Schools Communications Director Lori McDowell told WDRB News that OCS also received a subpoena from the Labor Cabinet. The agency wants OCS to supply the same information originally sought by the Kentucky Department of Education in March, she said.
Bullitt County Public Schools Superintendent Jesse Bacon also confirmed that his district received a subpoena from the Labor Cabinet. He said the district is currently reviewing the subpoena with its attorney.
Haley Bradburn, the cabinet's communications director, said the matter was referred to the Labor Cabinet's Office of Inspector General and the agency "does not comment on OIG inquiries." She did not immediately say how the matter was referred to the inspector general's office.
Other school districts reached by WDRB News did not immediately return requests for comment.
The Labor Cabinet's subpoena comes after JCPS and other districts submitted the names of teachers who requested sick leave during days in which they closed. Some JCPS teachers forced the district's closure six times during the closing weeks of this year's legislative session, protesting three bills that they contend would have hurt public education.
Only one of those bills, which would give JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio and his successors authority to hire principals, passed the General Assembly and was signed into law by Gov. Matt Bevin.
Lewis has asked school districts to amend their sick leave policies, hoping to end the future use of "sick outs."
Lewis also said he would not push for teachers to be punished if there were no further work stoppages. The Labor Cabinet can penalize teachers up to $1,000 for participating in work stoppages, Lewis said in a March 27 memo to 10 superintendents.
Bevin, in an interview with 840 WHAS, said the Labor Cabinet has a responsibility to "defend the people of Kentucky against illicit labor practice."
But Bevin said he didn't think teachers who requested sick leave when they weren't actually under the weather should fear for their jobs based on the subpoenas, "especially if they've didn't do anything wrong."
"Not unless you had a superintendent who felt that was worthy of losing your job," Bevin said. "That would seem a little bit extreme, don't you think? This isn't a function of whether you lose your job. It's a function of whether or not somebody did something that was dishonest."
"I think people at this point are asking questions," he added. "Anybody who's living in fear perhaps has more reasons to do so than I'm even aware of."
Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, said the request for additional information by the Labor Cabinet "just contributes yet again to teachers feeling like they're under attack by the governor and the executive branch of state government."
"When Governor Bevin's Commissioner of Education assured educators consequences would not be pursued against them, then Governor Bevin should make certain that his Secretary of Labor honors that assurance," McKim said in a statement.
"The Governor and the Secretary of Labor should be working on rebuilding trust with teachers, not attacking them yet again and trying to intimidate them out of advocating for their students."
Democrats also decried the move. The Kentucky Democratic Party called the subpoenas "the latest step in Matt Bevin’s war on teachers and public education" while House Democratic leaders -- including House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, a gubernatorial candidate this year -- said the requests mark "a new low for the Bevin administration."
"Our teachers were exercising their First Amendment right to be heard on legislative matters directly affecting them, and should be respected for their invaluable contributions in the classroom as well as at the Capitol," the group said in a statement. "This action is designed to strong-arm any opposition, and it is yet another example of the governor’s attack on public education. This should not be allowed."
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