‘Hateful and disrespectful emails’ spur message from Kentucky education commissioner

‘High quality charter schools’ are a tool to help achievement in education, commissioner says

Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis talking about next steps for charter schools in Kentucky.
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Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis talking about next steps for charter schools in Kentucky.

In a communication to Kentucky educators on Friday, Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said he had received this week “the most hateful and disrespectful emails I’ve ever been sent, from people who teach Kentucky children.”

“In the spirit of civil discourse, let’s all stop and think about the example we are setting for our children when we send incredibly nasty and disrespectful messages and launch personal attacks on people when we are all trying to achieve one common goal,” Lewis said in his message. “At the end of the day, the words we use to defend our beliefs are reflective of us as individuals, but can have unintended consequences when used in a destructive manner.”

Department spokeswoman Jessica Fletcher said the email from Lewis went to every educator in the state.

Lewis did not provide details in the message on what the emails he received from teachers said, but he told the Herald-Leader he was reacting to two emails the Louisville Courier-Journal reported Saturday that it obtained through the Kentucky Open Records Act.

One was sent Nov. 9 from a Meade County educator who said, “Stop sending us emails. We don’t like your agenda. We don’t want your business please go back to where you came from. You and your butt buddies can go ruin another state. You’ll answer to the Lord one day and you know what’s going to happen if you don’t change your ways,” the newspaper reported.

The newspaper reported that another email was sent Nov. 15 by a Jefferson County Public Schools teacher who said, “Nobody wants funding for charter schools except people who don’t care about brown and black kids. This is disgraceful and disrespects all great black leaders current and past. ALL Reputable Research shows that charter schools devastate minority communities. Systemic racism perpetrated by a man of color is the same reasoning that made some people of color become overseers during slavery. Sorry for bothering you with this ‘Massa’ >: (.”

In an interview with the Herald-Leader Saturday, Lewis said the emails “went beyond disagreement, went beyond voicing their concern and had a level of hatefulness, and nastiness that I had not seen previously ...that has no place in education policy conversations.”

Lewis said he welcomes feedback and debate from educators using school district email even when people disagree, but using a district email for a personal attack is inappropriate.

“This is an opportunity for us to hit pause and say we can seriously disagree on policy issues but not get to the place where we launch personal attacks on people or say incredibly nasty things. That’s completely inappropriate,” Lewis said in the interview.

Lewis said it’s likely the emails were prompted when he said Nov. 9 he would ask the 2019 General Assembly to create a funding mechanism or process for charter schools.

“It’s simply a mechanism that shows how dollars — already appropriated public schools dollars — would follow a kid to a public charter school if their parents decide to enroll them in a public charter school,” he told the Herald-Leader at a meeting in Frankfort of the newly configured Kentucky Charter Schools Advisory Council.

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Lewis has said that high quality public charter schools are one of the tools that can be used to close the achievement gap between groups of students, including low income students and students of color.

After years of debate, the General Assembly passed a law in 2017 to allow public charter schools in Kentucky for the first time. But none have opened yet, and the delay has been blamed on the lack of a funding mechanism. Opponents of charter schools have expressed concern that they will take resources away from traditional public schools.

Lewis said the Jefferson County teacher who wrote about charter schools was incorrect that many blacks in Kentucky and across the nation are not in favor of charter schools. Lewis said more than 60 percent of blacks in Kentucky and across the nation are in favor of charter schools.

Lewis said he did not know whether any action would be taken against the educators who sent the emails on their school district accounts, saying that would be up to district officials.

The Courier-Journal reported that the Meade County teacher was fired over the email. Her attorney told the newspaper she would contest it.

Lewis said that what the teachers said in the email is not representative of most teachers in Kentucky who “would not say those types of things.”

Lewis ended his message to teachers Friday by saying, “If we work together and have healthy discussions about these issues, we will get somewhere. If we do not, our children will be the ones on the losing end. United we stand. Divided we fall.”

Fletcher said many educators have responded to Lewis by thanking him for starting a dialogue.