Kentucky teachers speak out about why they are protesting for the fourth time in two weeks as JCPS schools were closed again Tuesday. March 12, 2019 Nikki Boliaux, Louisville Courier Journal
A deadline for Kentucky school superintendents to turn over the names of teachers who may have taken part in a recent wave of “sickouts” passed Monday without a clear answer as to whether the district leaders had complied.
“Due to the amount of information we anticipate receiving from the request it may be tomorrow afternoon or Wednesday before we are able to review everything and make any public comments,” Jessica Fletcher, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, said Monday.
Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis had given 10 districts, including Jefferson County Public Schools, until close of business on Monday to provide him with a list teachers who called in sick on the dates of the sickouts, as well as any documentation, such as doctor’s notes, that would prove they really were sick.
JCPS on Monday requested an extension of five additional days to fulfill Lewis’ request, citing “voluminous” sick leave records maintained by a third-party vendor.
“We have been in contact with our vendor since last week and we are working with them on the best way to extract and compile the records,” Superintendent Marty Pollio said in a letter to Lewis.
But, Pollio explained, because school was canceled, documentation of illness was never collected.
JCPS provided the Courier Journal with Pollio’s letter shortly after the Jefferson County School Board announced it would hold a special meeting Tuesday to discuss the matter. Board members will vote on a resolution in response to Lewis’ request, according to the meeting agenda.
That resolution, though, will not be made public until the meeting, said district spokeswoman Renee Murphy.
Lewis has said powers granted to him as commissioner give him the authority to ask for the sick leave records. In an op-ed published Sunday, Lewis defended his decision.
Teachers have the right to “sit, march, protest, engage, testify and make their opinions known in any other peaceful manner.” But, he added, they don’t “have the right to call in sick when they are not sick to force a work stoppage in Kentucky school districts.”
JCPS, Kentucky’s largest district, shut down six times in recent weeks as teachers sought to protest education-related legislation.
Citing poor student achievement data, Lewis said students in JCPS, in particular, couldn’t afford to lose six days worth of learning time.
JCPS has added those days to its calendar, and the last day of school for students is now June 7.
The Courier Journal on Monday contacted the nine other districts tasked with Lewis’ request.
Denise Yonts, superintendent for Letcher County Schools in eastern Kentucky, said she submitted the requested records on Sunday.
A spokeswoman for Oldham County Schools said Tuesday her district has been granted a one-week extension.
Boyd County Public Schools Superintendent Bill Boblett said his district has also been granted an extension.
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