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Education Commissioner Recommends Closing Sick Leave “Loophole”

Posted at 4:36 PM, Mar 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-27 20:41:38-04

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18 )- In a memo to 10 superintendents involved in potential “sickout” absences since February 28, Commissioner Wayne Lewis issued a recommendation regarding sick leave.

According to a release from the office, Lewis pinpointed 10 districts for teacher absences since Feb. 28.  Eight districts (Bath, Boyd, Carter, Fayette, Letcher, Madison, Marion and Oldham) closed for one day. Bullitt County closed for three days, and Jefferson County closed for six days.

Lewis suggested to the superintendents that they address teacher absences in the following ways:

  • Teachers desiring to miss work to engage in political advocacy must request and receive approval to use personal leave under KRS 161.154 – not sick leave under KRS 161.155.
  • Teachers requesting sick leave for the purpose of closing the district amounts to an illegal work stoppage. If a district suspects that sick leave has been requested to create a work stoppage, the district will preserve the list of teacher sick leave requests and submit this list to the Secretary of Labor, upon request, for investigation and possible civil penalties pursuant to KRS 336.050336.130336.985, and 336.990.

In the memo, Lewis said teachers who are found to have falsified absences could be disciplined by their districts.

“These school closures come at a tremendous cost to families, classified district employees, taxpayers, and – most importantly – our children,” said Lewis. “If district closures because of work stoppages continue and districts and local boards are unwilling or unable to address this problem, I will explore further action to do so, including recommending that the labor cabinet issue citations to teachers engaged in illegal work stoppages. At this time, however, I will allow local districts an opportunity to address this issue first.”

You can read the entire memo here. 

The Kentucky Education Association released the following statement: “KEA reviewed the Commissioner’s memo to the ten school districts affected by the sickouts during the last month. The conclusions he draws are legal ones, based on the plain wording of the applicable statutes. The analysis he offers could easily have been completed at any time without making dramatic, cumbersome requests for information from the districts involved and without knowing the name of a single teacher who requested leave on any of the days in question. His continued threat to use those names to trigger individual consequences if teachers and school administrators don’t comply with his demands just proves to us what we’ve known all along: getting those names was always intended to intimidate. It’s possible that the Commissioner doesn’t understand that many teachers don’t get personal days per KRS 161.154, because the language of that statute is permissive, not mandatory. He claims to support teachers’ right to advocate and engage in the political process; if that’s true, he should use his bully pulpit to encourage all districts to grant the maximum number of personal days under KRS 161.154 and to permanently establish plans to allow employee delegations to travel to Frankfort during the legislative sessions. Any Kentucky educator knows that positive supports get better results than fear every day of the week. Let’s see if the Commissioner believes that, too.”