A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Ed Commissioner Lewis says teachers have right to protest but not to disrupt school districts

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis says teachers have a right to protest, but not to call in sick and disrupt school districts when they are not ill.

He held a press conference on Friday to explain his request issued Thursday evening to 10 districts, who had to cancel because so many teachers used their sick days that not enough substitutes could be found to cover classes.

“The vast majority of Kentucky’s 173 school districts have managed to come to agreements with teachers and administrators that permit teachers to come to Frankfort to voice their opinions, protest in some cases, while they continue to serve kids. That’s fine,” Lewis said.

Wayne Lewis

He told reporters the majority of the 10 districts only experienced a work stoppage for one day.

“That has not been the case, however, in a handful of districts.  Over the last two weeks, six instructional days have been lost,” referring to the Jefferson County Public Schools, Kentucky’s largest district, with nearly 100,000 students.

“When we get to the place where six days over the last two weeks, kids’ education in a community has come to a halt, something has to be done,” he said.

Lewis said teachers, like everyone else, have the constitutional right to come to Frankfort to make sure their voices are heard.  

“But teachers do not have the constitutional right to call in sick when you are not sick and force a work stoppage that results in Kentucky schools closing.”

He said he has not asked for the names of teachers who have come to Frankfort to participate in protests.  

“What I have asked for is the names of teachers who have called in sick in districts that have resulted in work stoppages. Those two things are not the same.”

Lewis urged all districts to come up with a plan to address the issue. 

He said, “If we can’t find a way to allow teachers to voice their opposition if need be and keep our schools open, then we’re likely to lose another instructional day when the General Assembly comes back on March 28. And then whenever the General Assembly decides to take up pensions again, maybe we just shut down schools in Kentucky for three months.”

Lewis said he did not blame JCPS Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio for the six days of cancellations, that he negotiated an agreement to allow some teachers to protest in Frankfort while keeping schools open.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Adam Edelen has said he was going to file an Open Records request to see how many sick days Lewis has taken. 

The commissioner responded: “I’m a public employee like everyone else. Go for it.”

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One Comment

  1. Jeffrey Hampton says:

    Hey Wayne! School districts are disrupted for a lot less serious things – weather, basketball tournaments. Besides, the missed school days will be made up, so what is your problems??? As a retired teacher, I can tell you that I wished they would have been disrupted a lot more. I think the teachers across the state should be ashamed for not joining Jefferson County on closing down school. Have you guys been paying attention to what is going on across the nation in schools in West Virginia? Arizona? California? Colorado? KEA ought to especially be ashamed for not only not backing Jefferson County teachers, but actually working against them. If I were in KEA, I would quit them.

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