Kentucky Education Commissioner Wants Names of #RedforEd Sickout Teachers

PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 26: Aude Odeh, an english teacher at Barry Goldwater High School, cheers in support of the #REDforED movement during a rally in front of the State Capitol on April 26, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. Teachers state-wide staged a walkout strike on Thursday in support of better …
Ralph Freso/Getty
MICHAEL PATRICK LEAHY

Kentucky Commissioner of Education Dr. Wayne Lewis wants the names of those teachers who called in sick in order to protest education legislation at the state capitol, forcing schools in several counties to close for six days in the last two weeks.

The Kentucky teacher sickout saga began on February 28, when the local #RedforEd affiliate in the state, Kentucky 120 United, launched a protest of legislation under consideration at the state legislature that shut down public schools in several counties, as Breitbart News reported:

A Kentucky group that is part of the #RedforEd movement launched a teacher sickout in that state last week and may call for a statewide teachers strike if the Kentucky General Assembly passes legislation this session it does not like.

WJHL reported the February 28 sickout “was organized by the group KY 120 United, a reference to the state’s 120 counties, which encouraged teachers in a Facebook post Wednesday night to call in sick.”

KY 120 United is a #RedforEd associated group, which, according to its Facebook page, was founded on March 8, 2018, just a few days after 24-year-old teacher Noah Karvelis launched the #RedforEd movement nationally in the first week of March 2018.

As Breitbart News reported last month, #RedforEd is “[a] well-funded and subversive leftist movement of teachers in the United States [that] threatens to tilt the political balance nationwide in the direction of Democrats across the country as Republicans barely hang on in key states that they need to hold for President Donald Trump to win re-election and for Republicans to have a shot at retaking the House and holding onto their Senate majority.”

This teachers union effort, called #RedforEd, has its roots in the very same socialism that President Trump vowed in his 2019 State of the Union address to stop, and it began in its current form in early 2018 in a far-flung corner of the country before spreading nationally. Its stated goals–higher teacher pay and better education conditions–are overshadowed by a more malevolent political agenda: a leftist Democrat uprising designed to flip purple or red states to blue, using the might of a significant part of the education system as its lever.

After the February 28 sickout, which was promoted by KY 120 United, another group of #RedforEd teachers connected to but not formally associated with KY 120 United staged additional sickouts last week, as Breitbart News reported:

A teacher sickout shut down Kentucky’s largest school district [Jefferson County Public Schools] on Tuesday as educators associated with the #RedforEd movement abandoned their job duties to protest at the state capitol in Frankfort against legislation they oppose.

Last Thursday, the Kentucky Department of Education issued a statement requesting “information from districts that have experienced work stoppages.”

Attendance records of teachers have been requested by the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) in light of a high number of teacher absences that have caused multiple districts to call off classes since Feb. 28, 2019, when protests regarding education legislation began.

An email requesting the following was sent to 10 districts today:

The names of all teachers that called in sick for February 28, March 5-7, and/or March 12-14, 2019 and the day(s) for which each teacher called in sick;
Any and all affidavits or certificates of a reputable physician stating that the employee was ill or caring for an ill family member on the days the employee called in sick, as required by KRS 161.155 for the granting of any sick leave; and Documentation of the district’s policies, procedures, and/or protocols for collecting sick leave affidavits or certifications and verifying qualification for the granting of sick leave.

“The Kentucky Department of Education takes the closing of schools very seriously,” Commissioner of Education Lewis said in the statement.

“While it is important that administrators, teachers and students make their voices heard about issues related to public education policy, advocacy should under no circumstances be putting a stop to learning for entire communities. Most Kentucky districts have managed to make that avenue available without work stoppages and have continued to serve students,” he added.

The following day, Friday, attorney Matt Wohlander threatened the Kentucky Department of Education with a lawsuit over the request.

That same day, three high school students from Manual High School, part of Jefferson County Public Schools (Louisville), with school shut down for the day, created a video supporting their sickout teachers which in a week has had over 23,000 views.

The lyrics attest to the quality of education these students have been receiving from their absent teachers:

Come on Bevin

Watchu doin, huh

Think we’re stupid, huh

Come on Bevin

Who you foolin, huh

We ain’t losin, huh

Why you try to lie

Puttin all these bills in disguise

You know what that implies

You gonna meet your demise

Sickout! Sickout!

Student support for striking #RedforEd teachers has been shown throughout the country, as was the case in the recent Oakland, California #RedforEd teachers strike.

On Monday Lewis released a statement on the Kentucky Department of Education website, in which he said, “My request [for records of teachers who participated in recent sickouts] has been met with criticism and outrage from some educators who participated in the protests at the capitol. Many of whom feel like my request is a violation of their First Amendment rights. This is absolutely not true. I have continuously affirmed teachers’ rights to be at the Kentucky State Capitol to sit, march, protest, engage, testify and make their opinions known in any other peaceful manner.”

“Teachers have the same rights as any other citizen to engage in the political process, and I applaud teachers and all Kentuckians who choose to engage in education advocacy. Teachers do not, however, have the right to call in sick when they are not sick in order to force a work stoppage in Kentucky school districts,” he added.

“I believe, however, that the work stoppages have impeded students’ academic learning,” Lewis continued, adding:

Kentucky students cannot afford to lose instructional days. Students in Jefferson County – where 36 percent of economically disadvantaged elementary school students score at the Novice level on state reading assessments – especially cannot afford to lose six instructional days. Forty-three percent of African American elementary school students in Jefferson County score at the Novice level – the lowest of four performance levels – in reading. Scoring at the Novice performance level means students demonstrate minimal understanding of academic content at their grade level.

Students cannot afford to miss one instructional day in Jefferson County, much less six within two weeks.

 

“The legal authority for the commissioner of education to make such requests is indisputable,” Lewis added.

If students are our top priority, every school district in Kentucky must protect its students’ school days and instructional time. Let’s talk about how we accomplish that while we also work together on the many other issues we have to address with public education in Kentucky.

On Wednesday, WUKY reported that Lewis subsequently said that once he receives those names, he won’t use them to punish the sickout teachers–unless the sickouts continue.

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