JCPS fires teacher for using sick leave while on cruise

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools has fired a teacher for using sick leave while she went on a cruise in October.

Jennifer Tyra, who had been a fourth grade teacher at John F. Kennedy Elementary School, was fired for insubordination, conduct unbecoming of a teacher and neglect of duty on Nov. 11, according to her termination letter obtained by WDRB News through an open records request.

The letter from Superintendent Donna Hargens states that on Aug. 12, Tyra requested personal time off for Oct. 10-12 and then on Aug. 26, she requested sick leave for Oct. 13-14.

"On Oct. 17, you returned to school and signed the JCPS Application for Sick Leave for Oct. 13-14," Hargens wrote. "By signing that application, you solemnly swore that on the above-mentioned dates you were unable to perform your teaching duties and you were officially applying for excused sick leave."

According to JCPS' sick leave policy, employees can only use sick leave if they are ill or an immediate family member is ill. How a teacher in Kentucky can use sick leave is also defined by state law (KRS 161.155).

"It was brought to your principal's attention that during the week of Oct. 10, including the days you testified were for excused sick leave, you were absent due to a cruise," the letter states, adding that the principal and union representative met with Tyra on Oct. 19 to discuss whether she falsified the sick leave application.

"(You) insisted that while you were on a cruise that week, the cruise lasted Oct. 9-12, and you had kept your doctor appointments on Oct. 13-14. It was then that your principal presented you with Facebook posts from your account, evidencing that you were indeed on the cruise...on Oct. 13-14."

"Upon presentation of the Facebook posts, you dropped the books you were holding and exclaimed, 'I lied. Okay. Now what?! You gonna fire me?'" the letter states.

It continues to say that not only did Tyra falsify the JCPS sick leave application, "you also attempted to cover up the falsification to your immediate supervisor when initially questioned about it. You only admitted to being on the cruise on Oct. 13-14 after you were presented with the Facebook posts."

Tyra's personnel file shows she was hired by JCPS in Aug. 2015 after working nine years in the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School System in Indiana.

Under state law, any certified public school employee who is terminated, suspended without pay or publicly reprimanded has the right to appeal the superintendent's decision to a tribunal. The panel consists of an active or retired teacher, an administrator and a lay person -- none of whom reside in the county involved in the dispute.

Tyra could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Jefferson County Teachers Association President Brent McKim said they go to great lengths to avoid this, warning members about being socially savvy on their personal pages. 

"It's not the first time, and it probably won't be the last time," he said.

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