New Kentucky Official Reverses Ruling on Teacher Sickouts

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Frankfort, Ky.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear's administration is reversing a decision by the previous administration, now saying that more than 1,000 public school teachers did not break the law when they participated in protests that shut down some schools.

Beshear, a Democrat, narrowly defeated Republican Gov. Matt Bevin earlier this year. Before winning the election, Beshear served as the state's attorney general, where he fought Bevin's efforts to investigate the protesting teachers.

A Monday letter from Beshear’s Labor Cabinet secretary, Larry Roberts, to the cabinet’s inspector general says Bevin Labor Secretary David Dickerson's finding that protesting teachers engaged in an illegal work stoppage was “improper and contrary to law.”

The protests over several education bills in Kentucky were part of a wave of teacher activism that began in 2018 in West Virginia and spread to other states, including Oklahoma and Arizona. The Kentucky measures included a proposal to change who manages the teachers' pension fund as well as legislation that would have indirectly supported private schools with tax credits for scholarship funds.

In “sickouts,” many of the teachers called in sick in order to go to the Capitol in Frankfort and protest. Some schools were forced to cancel classes because they did not have enough personnel.

The 1,074 teachers Dickerson found to have violated the law could have been assessed civil penalties up to $1,000 per person for each day away from work, but Dickerson declined to do so. Instead, he warned teachers that "the grace extended in this instance" would not be applied if future work stoppages were to occur.

In the Monday letter reversing Dickerson's decision, Roberts writes “there was no ‘strike’ or ‘work stoppage’ ... because the teachers were exercising constitutional rights to speech, petition, and assembly when they came to the Capitol, and were not engaged in a dispute with their employers concerning the terms of their employment.”

In a Tuesday statement on the change, Beshear said, "Our teachers and educators never broke the law and are welcome in Frankfort.”

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