Could teachers be in trouble?
In a March 15, 2019 press conference available here on Facebook, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis outlined his major concerns with recent teacher sick outs that caused school cancellations in multiple school districts. In the worst case, the Jefferson County Public School System (JCPS), Lewis says massive numbers of teachers calling in sick resulted in six days of school cancellations in the past two weeks.
In consequence, Lewis and his team are gathering information about the sickouts, including asking for the names of teachers who called in sick.
Lewis said his primary goal at the end of this information gathering process is to come up with better procedures to allow teachers to exercise constitutional rights while maintaining the rights of students to undisrupted education.
He would not, however, rule out a possibility of punitive action being taken and pointed out that calling in sick when you actually are not is illegal.
There have been questions about whether Lewis has a right to this information. Apparently, two Kentucky statutes, KRS 156.010 and KRS 156.210 apply here.
The more significant law is KRS 156.210.
“156.210 Powers of chief state school officer.
(1) The chief state school officer shall have access to the papers, books and records of all teachers, trustees, superintendents, or other public school officials.
(2) He may administer oaths and may examine witnesses under oath in any part of the state in any matter pertaining to the public schools, and may cause the testimony to be reduced to writing. He may issue process to compel attendance of witnesses before him and compel witnesses to testify in any investigation he is authorized to make.
(3) When he or his assistants find any mismanagement, misconduct, violation of law, or wrongful or improper use of any district or state school fund, or neglect in the performance of duty on the part of any official, he shall report the same, and any other violation of the school laws discovered by him, to the Kentucky Board of Education, which shall, through the chief state school officer or one (1) of his assistants, call in the county attorney or the Commonwealth’s attorney in the county or district where the violation occurs, and the attorney so called in shall assist in the indictment, prosecution, and conviction of the accused. If prosecution is not warrantable, the Kentucky Board of Education may rectify and regulate all such matters.”
I’m not a lawyer, but it looks like the commissioner has some pretty serious power.
It doesn’t look like relevant information from teachers’ records can be hidden from the commissioner. In fact, the commissioner apparently could even require teachers and local school administrators to testify and do so under oath. Wow!
Lewis also mentioned in his news conference that it is illegal for teachers to call in sick when they are not.
Could a bunch of teachers soon be in a lot of trouble?
Well, note in the statute above that Lewis is required to report findings of misconduct for further action that can lead to legal prosecution.
This could get interesting.