Beshear on teacher subpoenas: It’s time to stop these petty attacks
Kentucky Labor Secretary David Dickerson on Wednesday refused Attorney General Andy Beshear’s request that Dickerson withdraw subpoenas for teacher absence records during recent teacher protests at the 2019 General Assembly.
Beshear made his request April 16 at a news conference, saying that educators were being bullied by Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration.
Beshear said in a letter at that time to Bevin and Dickerson that the sickouts did not violate labor law and any attempt to punish or fine teachers who participated would violate their First Amendment rights.
In a letter to Beshear Wednesday, Dickerson responded, “I see no valid reason to overlook possible violations of Kentucky law.”
“I will do my legal duty for all the people in the Commonwealth,” Dickerson said in his letter. “What I will not do is set aside my obligation to uphold well-established Kentucky law because it might not set well with you.”
“As the chief law officer of the Commonwealth, your primary duty should be in seeing that these laws are followed, not impeded,” Dickerson said.
Dickerson said that his office was only beginning an investigation and gathering information about possible law violations and had made no decisions.
“It may be that, when all is said and done, this office issues some citations. It may be that this office issues no citations at all. We won’t know until after an inquiry is completed and we review all the evidence,” Dickerson said.
Beshear responded Wednesday by saying, “Today, Matt Bevin’s cabinet secretary confirmed in a letter that he intends to investigate and impose ‘consequences’ against Kentucky teachers for protesting at the Capitol. I will not allow this governor to bully our teachers and fine them up to $1,000 a day. If the governor’s subpoenas are not withdrawn by the end of the week, I will file suit on Monday. See you in court.”
Bevin, a Republican, is running for re-election this year and Beshear, a Democrat, is competing for the party’s nomination to face the governor.
Several districts that canceled classes said they have received subpoenas asking for absence records, medical affidavits confirming illnesses, records of teachers making requests for absences, documents regarding the closing of schools, and district policies. Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis has said that such violations could result in $1,000 fines to individual teachers.
Dickerson explained why he issued subpoenas to 10 Kentucky school districts, including Fayette, asking for the names of teachers who were absent on days when work stoppages occurred. He said it was against the law for public-sector employees to engage in work stoppages.
“Kentucky law compels me to act,” he said.
“What is at stake here is whether public-school employees can lie about being sick and force a shutdown of the entire school system so that they can get paid while coming to Frankfort to lobby,” Dickerson said.
Haley Bradburn, a spokeswoman for the Labor Cabinet, said in releasing Dickerson’s letter Wednesday that “the letter underscores that the Labor Cabinet is fulfilling its statutory duty and acting in the public interest of students, parents, employers, and the taxpayers of Kentucky by investigating whether a public-sector strike or work stoppage has occurred in violation of Kentucky law.”
“Secretary Dickerson notes that any legal action by the Attorney General would not only be meritless and premature, but would obstruct the lawful inquiry undertaken by the Labor Cabinet’s” Office of Inspector General, Bradburn said.