Kentucky teachers call out sick, protest at capitol
A report from the Office of Inspector General on this year’s teacher ‘sickouts’ was able to verify that less than a quarter of the Fayette County teachers who called in sick the day the district closed due to teacher absences had visited the state Capitol.
The report from Inspector General Rodney C. Stewart identified 197 of the 849 Fayette teachers who called in sick Feb. 28. Fayette County Schools only canceled classes districtwide due to the teacher absences on that one day.
A state subpoena forced Fayette schools to hand over documents that identified names of the teachers who called in sick.
In April, the Office of Inspector General was directed by Labor Cabinet Secretary David Dickerson to investigate the circumstances surrounding the closing of ten school districts in Kentucky in February and March, including Fayette. Dickerson wanted the information so that he could determine whether a “work stoppage” by public employees who went to Frankfort to lobby the General Assembly on public education issues had occurred in violation of state law, the Sept. 3 report said.
Dickerson said in August that the investigation showed 1,074 teachers statewide violated Kentucky law when they participated in a “sick out” during this year’s legislative session over concerns about their pension benefits. He said no penalties would be assessed for the violations, which could have been up to $1,000 per individual, but warned that future violations could result in consequences.
Jessica Hiler, president of the Fayette County Education Association, said Wednesday she didn’t think that any Fayette County teachers violated the law when they went to Frankfort out of concern over public education issues.
“I think the teachers in Fayette County stood up for their profession and stood up for their students and participated in the democratic process by being in Frankfort to have their voices heard,” she said.
The Office of Inspector General received from Kentucky State Police sign-in logs of people wanting to gain access to the State Capitol Building on days when teachers in the ten districts were absent, including Feb. 28, the day Fayette closed, the report said.
In addition to the details about Fayette County teachers, the report said that in several districts, the numbers of teachers that could be verified as going to the state Capitol was far less than the number of teachers who called in sick.
In Jefferson County, that school district reported that 3,370 teachers called in sick on a total of six dates, and the report said 713 teachers could be verified as visiting the Capitol.
According to the report:
▪ Bullitt County, 250 teachers called in sick over three days; 73 of them were verified by the OIG as visiting the Capitol.
▪ Boyd County, 72 teachers called in sick on Feb. 28; seven were verified as visiting the Capitol.
▪ Letcher County, 93 teachers called in sick on Feb. 28; 12 were verified as visiting the Capitol.
▪ Carter County, 56 teachers called in sick on Feb. 28; nine were verified as visiting the Capitol.
▪ Madison County, 164 teachers called in sick on Feb. 28; 34 were verified as visiting the Capitol.
▪ Marion County, 35 teachers called in sick on Feb. 28; one was verified as visiting the Capitol.
▪ Oldham County, 181 teachers called in sick on March 7; 28 were verified as visiting the Capitol.
Hiler said she did not know how many Fayette County teachers were in Frankfort on Feb. 28 , but she said educators were all over the Capitol grounds.
Other teachers stayed behind Hiler said on Feb. 28 in Lexington and prepared backpacks filled with food for students in the district who receive donated food to take home on the weekends.
“It was a team effort of people trying to go (to Frankfort) and then people staying here trying to make sure that our kids” had what they needed, she said.
The Inspector General subpoenaed several records from the districts, including affidavits from employees and notes from licensed medical professionals.
The report noted that Fayette was among nine districts that did not provide any affidavits for teachers who called in sick and cited Fayette’s response, which said the district did not have sick leave forms for Feb. 28 because sick leave forms were were not required on scheduled days off or non-scheduled days such as snow days.
The report also included an email from Fayette Schools district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall to parents written at 9:06 p.m. Feb. 28, the day that district officials canceled classes, that said:
“Last night at 8 p.m., 40 percent of our teachers had requested subs(titutes). Although we tried to fill them, we had more than 700 spots unfilled. There was no way we could physically have school because it would not be safe with inadequate supervision. This was not something we wanted to do.”