Jefferson County Public Schools will be closed Tuesday after around one-third of teachers called in sick — the fourth sickout of the year for Kentucky’s largest district.
The move comes despite an unprecedented agreement between JCPS and its teachers union to send three teachers per school to Frankfort for the remaining four days of the legislative session. While it would send over 500 teachers to rally on behalf of the district, the plan was met with backlash from educators who considered it too little.
A statewide ACT test scheduled for all JCPS juniors Tuesday will be postponed until a make-up day at the end of April. Kentucky’s education commissioner gave all districts the opportunity to push back the exam, which is required of all juniors, in case of a district closure. A state education department spokeswoman said only one district — Clay County — confirmed they would voluntarily move the test as of 8 p.m.
JCPS’ closure squashes social media speculation that district leadership would not close again, regardless of how many teachers called in. Rumors that students would be in rooms watched by janitors or stuck in a gym watching movies due to limited staffing swirled on Facebook through most of Monday.
Before JCPS or any other district closed, Gov. Matt Bevin, long a critic of sickouts, addressed the string of callouts in a tweet and short video Monday night.
Bevin claims JCTA is “pretending that they’re not supporting” sickouts, but are reloading sick hours into teachers’ accounts.
— Olivia Krauth (@oliviakrauth) March 11, 2019
“This isn’t that controversial,” Bevin said of no specific bill or legislation in the video. “There is no reason to be walking out on students, leaving students in the lurch, hurting them and their parents and the many businesses in Kentucky that are affected by this.”
In it, Bevin claims the Jefferson County teachers union is pretending to not be behind the sickouts but is secretly “reloading” teachers’ sick hours so they can continue to call off. Union president Brent McKim said it is a false, “bizarre” assertion.
“We understand why these teachers are doing this and it is in large part because they feel like they have been attacked by the Governor to the point where they don’t trust the system,” McKim said in a Facebook Live shortly after Bevin’s remarks. “And then we see them feeling like they have to be there because they don’t trust what is happening. And there is a direct connection there.”
Teachers have been protesting multiple education bills, including ones to allow tax credits for donations to private school scholarships and to give the JCPS superintendent more authority, since an initial sickout on Feb. 28. The potential legislation culminates into a larger attack on public education, they argue.
On Tuesday, the House education committee and a conference committee on tax reform both meet at 9 a.m. While House Bill 205, which contains scholarship tax credit language, is likely dead, teachers worry similar language could be tacked into the tax reform legislation.
The full House convenes at 12 p.m. with two of the most-watched bills — Senate Bill 250 and House Bill 525 — potentially up for a vote. The full Senate gavels in at 2 p.m.