Kentucky teachers group calls for statewide ‘sickout’ in protest of HB 525 on Thursday

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WAVE) – A Kentucky teachers group is urging teachers to call in sick on Thursday to protest HB 525 in Frankfort.

The group, KY 120 United, is a grassroots group that led protests during the last legislative session. The group is not directly affiliated with teachers unions in the state of Kentucky.

In a letter obtained by WAVE 3 News, the group is urging teachers to “take bold action” and to “ask employees in every work site to call in sick tomorrow (Thursday).”

See the full letter below:

Dear KEA & JCTA members!

Please DO NOT POST TO SOCIAL MEDIA!

This is an emergency action alert!

The House State and Local Government Committee will hear HB 525- a bill sponsored by Rep. Upchurch that would totally restructure the TRS Board of trustees and nomination process. This bill is as destructive to our pension assets as any bill could be. We need to take bold action to protect a board process and nominating procedure that has worked for the last 78 years. Please ask employees in every worksite to call in sick tomorrow. We need districts to shut down as early as possible this evening. If school is called off – people should feel free to get to Frankfort if they can. Wear RED. If HB 525 passes out of committee on Thursday we will stay home on Friday as well.

They want a special session to deal with pensions in the summer- when we have less leverage. We need to make this move while they are here.

Please make sure to emphasize that this word should be spread via phone call or text and NOT on social media.

HB 525 is a bill that would restructure the TRS Board of Trustees. It will be heard at 12 p.m. on Thursday.

According to the letter, if HB 525 passes out of committee on Thursday, “we will stay home on Friday as well.”

Around 10:20 Wednesday night, Jefferson County Public Schools canceled classes due to the number of teachers calling out sick.

Fayette County Public Schools has also canceled classes for Thursday and issued this statement:

“As of 8 this evening, roughly 40 percent of our school employees have reported that they will not be at school tomorrow, which leaves our district without enough substitutes to cover all of the absences. As a result, all Fayette County Public Schools will be closed on Thursday, February 28, 2019.”

Education Commissioner Dr. Wayne Lewis issued a statement on Wednesday saying students across the state should be in school on Thursday.

It is unfair to Kentucky’s students and families, unreasonable, and irresponsible to attempt to shut down our state’s public school system because a House committee will consider a bill. Educators can and should make their views known in Frankfort, but there is no reason for our kids not to be in school tomorrow.”

The sick out comes in reaction to House Bill 525 being heard committee Thursday –If passed, It would change who oversees teacher pensions.

“They’re taking a lot of those teachers off of the board,” Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey said. “The weird thing is they’re replacing them with people that have no pension expertise necessarily and also don’t have a vested interest in the teacher system.”

Jefferson County Teacher Association President Brent McKim said he’s aware of a group calling for a sick out on Facebook, but has not instructed his members to use a sick day inappropriately, but said they still might participate- and the cancellation shows they did.

“We are encouraging out retired members to get to Frankfort if they can,” McKim said. “Other members, if they feel strongly, and have a personal day and can get to the committee meeting, we’d love to see them there too.”

That will happen Thursday, when the House Standing Committee on State Government meets at noon.

“They haven’t sought any input from the teachers and I think the teachers feel like its an attack,” McGarvey said.

HB 525 sponsor Rep. Ken Upchurch issued the following statement Wednesday evening:

“I have been told that teachers in at least two of our largest school districts are planning a ‘sick out’ to protest the preliminary version of legislation that seeks to give educators more say in their own retirement.

It is staggering that people would strike so early in the process and more astonishing that the organization that says they represent teachers’ best interests has called for it. We have been working for more than a week on a committee substitute that will not only increase the say teachers have – particularly those with JCTA – but also the voice of retired educators. Despite this, I am hopeful that we can still have a rational conversation on HB 525”

WAVE 3 News attempted multiple times to reach out to members of KY 120 United Wednesday, but received no response.