Louisville Courier Journal
Published 3:55 PM EDT Aug 20, 2019
Gov. Matt Bevin suggested in a radio interview Tuesday morning that protesting teachers only caused "sickouts" while schools were in session because they wanted paid time off work, instead of protesting during the summer when it wouldn't affect students.
The governor made the comments on the "Brian Thomas Morning Show" on 55-KRC in Cincinnati, pivoting from a discussion of the legality of teacher sickouts to questioning the motive and timing of those protests.
"The same bill came forward again this summer when nobody was in school, and nobody showed up," Bevin said. "When it’s vacation time, people are a little less worked up it seems."
Bevin's comments drew laughter from Thomas, who called the timing of those protests "sad and pathetic."
Ten school districts in the state shut down for one or more days during the 2019 legislative session when large numbers of teachers called in sick and traveled to Frankfort to protest certain bills related to education, as well as the prospects of a bill emerging that would alter teachers' pension benefits.
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Though Bevin claimed "the same bill" was considered during the special session of the legislature this summer, that legislation only dealt with the pensions for employees of quasi-governmental organizations and regional universities and was not specifically targeted or criticized by large numbers of teachers or their unions.
The governor continued to question the timing of teacher protests later in the interview.
"It’s interesting, though, that people seem to most enjoy doing this — stopping work — when they get paid anyway," Bevin said. "But when they’re not getting paid to stop work, it’s remarkable, nobody seems to be that interested. They don’t care quite as much."
The Kentucky Labor Cabinet issued subpoenas to school districts this spring requesting the names of teachers who called in sick during the days those schools closed down. Last week, cabinet Secretary David Dickerson declared that 1,074 teachers had broken the law by participating in those sickout protests but would not be fined.
Bevin said in the interview that while his cabinet could have fined those teachers up to $1,000 per day, his administration instead will "show some grace in this instance" and "use this as a teachable moment." However, he left open the possibility of fining teachers if such sickouts happen again.
"We’ll make clear that this is a violation," Bevin said. "If it were to happen again, people could be held into account, and it’s not going to be tolerated in the future. That’s the way this ruling, from what I’ve read, and I think it’s an appropriate one. There really is no excuse for this."
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Brent McKim, the president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, told the Courier Journal there was "a disturbing number of errors in the governor's statements" about teachers, including the fact that teachers had to make up all of the days that were canceled due to the sickouts.
Noting that the bills protested by teachers during the regular session of the General Assembly were different than that quasi-governmental pension bill during the special session, McKim added that "if he doesn't understand the difference between those bills, it calls into question if he understands any of these issues."
The Kentucky Education Association issued a statement suggesting that Bevin didn't understand his own pension bill during the special session, as "anyone who is familiar with that legislation knows that it was not the same bill educators protested a few months ago."
"Educators protest to influence governmental action that affects public schools and public school students, not to get out of work that they love and believe in," read the KEA statement. "For the Governor to suggest otherwise is, unfortunately, typical.
Nema Brewer, co-founder of the KY 120 United group that formed during the initial teacher protests last year, told the Courier Journal that Bevin's comments were another example of "a bully who wants attention."
“Matt Bevin shows up at the Democratic booth in Louisville for the fair and says he wants to be civil, and then the next thing you know he turns around and pokes us right back in the eyeball," Brewer said. "He can’t help himself. It’s like he has a disease where he constantly has to run his mouth.
“If he would shut his mouth and open his ears he might be a better governor."
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Reach reporter Joe Sonka at [email protected] or 502-582-4059 and follow him on Twitter at @joesonka. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courierjournal.com/subscribe.