Education

After teacher protests at the statehouse closed Jefferson County Public Schools for two days in a row, Thursday evening school district officials and the Jefferson County Teachers Association announced they had formed a plan to prevent future sickouts.

The General Assembly will reconvene Tuesday through Thursday of next week, and hold committee meetings on Monday. One of the three major proposals Jefferson County teachers oppose — Senate Bill 250, which would expand the JCPS superintendent’s powers — is slated for a Senate vote Tuesday.

County chapters of the Kentucky Education Association, including JCTA, will send teacher delegates to the legislature for the four final days it is in session. In an email statement to teachers, Superintendent Marty Pollio said the district would work with JCTA to pick three individuals from each school to travel to Frankfort next week.

Superintendent Marty Pollio emailed this statement Thursday evening to JCPS employees.

Officers from JCTA reached out to JCPS to work out an agreement to keep schools open and teachers voices present at the Capitol; district officials came back with this plan. The district will allow JCTA representatives at each school to select up to three educators from their building to go to the legislature, for a total of up to 500 delegates.

“It’s an option that would find common ground between teachers who are calling in sick and those who are not, and would be able to give us a strong presence in Frankfort,” JCTA President Brent McKim said in support of the plan.

Questions From Teachers

On Thursday night, McKim released a video via Facebook live to explain the delegation plan.  In response to McKim’s video, many teachers voiced questions and concerns including:

  • whether the plan would shrink the number of teachers at the legislature next week
  • skepticism about whether JCPS could find substitutes to cover 500 delegates
  • complaints that JCTA is not taking strong enough action with this plan

Presence at Legislature

McKim responded to complaints that fewer teachers from JCPS would be able to attend by saying that the sea of teachers at the Capitol included teachers from many other counties as well. The KEA has been sending delegates from various districts, and Oldham and Bullitt counties also closed Thursday.

Substitute Teachers

A JCPS spokesperson said in an email that the district plans to use a combination of central office staff and substitute staff to cover absences from delegates. Officials checked records of the number of substitutes used in past years to determine their ability to cover all absences.

Differences of Opinion

“It’s a very challenging issue, and I respect the differences of opinion that our members have,” McKim said, adding that the plan was meant to serve all teachers — most of whom did not call in sick this week.

“When I saw it, I thought it was an incredibly smart compromise,” said teacher Max Morely, who expressed concerns that a continued sickout would hurt public support for the movement and affect low-income students who rely on schools for nutrition services.

“I feel that only sending 500 teachers from across Jefferson County Public Schools does not give us the true voice and address the issue that is really going on,” said parent April Flynn.

Some educators have also expressed a loss of faith in JCTA, with one teacher commenting on McKim’s video message that the association’s response to lawmakers “has been too little, too late.”

When asked for his reaction, McKim said the plan simply gives teachers an option.

“No one is required to do anything under this agreement, and no one is limited in calling in for a sick day,” McKim said.

Liz Schlemmer is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.