JCPS Board

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools has sent a preliminary list of "sick out" teacher names to state Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis.

Renee Murphy, communications director for JCPS, confirmed to WDRB Monday evening that a preliminary list of teachers who requested sick leave on the days in question had been sent, but it is unclear how many names are on the list. The district in its letter to Lewis said absences average about 500 teachers per day.

A spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education did not immediately return a request for comment.

Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, said he was "disappointed" that Lewis did not drop his request for names of teachers as asked by the Jefferson County Board of Education last week and the "chilling effect" it could have on educators' First Amendment rights.

Lewis declined the board's request, made through a resolution passed Tuesday, but he said no disciplinary action would be taken against teachers if there are no further work stoppages. Lawmakers return for the final day of this year's session on Thursday.

JCPS teachers have closed the district through sick outs six times this legislative session.

A deal struck between JCPS and JCTA, which has not endorsed the sick outs, allowing schools to send three delegates each to Frankfort has not kept teachers from forcing the district's closure. Assurances from a bipartisan group of lawmakers that the bills teachers have protested this year won't pass did not deter the sixth JCPS sick out on March 14.

McKim said JCTA is "recommending that each school send three teachers as we worked out."

"I guess it's anybody's guess what will ultimately happen, but I hope that we use the plan that we developed with the district," he told WDRB News.

On the sixth day of teacher sick outs in two weeks, Lewis asked JCPS, and nine other districts, to provide a list of every teacher who called out sick on days when enough educators took absences to close school while many teachers traveled to Frankfort to protest a trio of proposed house bills.

Teachers first closed districts throughout central and eastern Kentucky Feb. 28 to protest House Bill 525, which would have altered the makeup and election process for the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System’s board of trustees.

In response to the request, JCPS asked Lewis for five additional days to produce the list, but later asked him to withdraw the request completely.

"The JCBE believes that the educational interests of Jefferson County students are best served by allowing teachers to focus on their profession, including advocacy in their profession's best interests, without the fear of retribution," the board's resolution said.

Lewis had also asked the district to submit sick leave policies, any affidavits or doctor's notes submitted by those who called out sick, but those were not included in the list sent to the commissioner on Monday. 

Lewis said he takes the closing of schools "very seriously" and that the Department of Education planned to use the data received to review whether or not districts and teachers were following the law. 

The Kentucky Education Association said Lewis's requests were meant to keep educators from "speaking out." 

"Commissioner Lewis claims that he wants it to remain a local issue, but his heavy-handed exercise of state oversight authority speaks otherwise," KEA said in a statement.

Lewis said the request was not a "scare tactic," and his goal was not to punish teachers. He said he wouldn't push for educators to be punished for forcing their districts to close if there are no work stoppages on Thursday, as lawmakers return for the final day of the 2019 legislative session. 

"My goal is to end up in a place where teachers can voice their opposition and dissent when need be in Frankfort without resulting in work stoppages where kids are deprived of instructional days," Lewis said.

Below is a copy of the letter JCPS sent to KDE on Monday:

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