Kentucky Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis says it is not within the Kentucky Department of Education’s authority to investigate political emails sent from a private individual to teachers’ professional email accounts.
On Wednesday, the Kentucky Education Association called for Lewis or the Kentucky Board of Education to lead a state investigation into political emails teachers in several rural Kentucky school districts received at work.
The teachers in at least eight districts received emails criticizing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear over the last two weeks. The emails went to the teachers’ public school email addresses and were sent from an unknown supporter of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. Bevin has said that his campaign was not behind the effort.
“It’s not anything that’s illegal. It’s nothing I can control. And the call for me or the state board of education to investigate that is ridiculous,” Lewis said.
Lewis said it is not illegal for private individuals to email teachers, and argued that KEA frequently emails teachers messages of a political nature on their work accounts.
Lewis sent the following message to superintendents across the state, and shared the message on Twitter:
Commissioner @WayneDLewis has issued the following guidance to all Kentucky superintendents regarding recent email activity and public school system email accounts. https://t.co/fUlmtUbC5J pic.twitter.com/xWKDiDJv9p
— KY Dept of Education (@KyDeptofEd) October 10, 2019
KEA has argued that teachers are not allowed to use their emails for political purposes.
“Educators can’t use work email for political purposes, period,” said KEA President Eddie Campbell. “Some of them have been disciplined or threatened with discipline by this administration for their alleged inappropriate use of school email. But that street runs both ways.”
Lewis said the emails Campbell may be referring to are not comparable. As reported by the Courier-Journal, two Kentucky teachers were reprimanded in November for sending emails to Lewis that he has described as “racist and homophobic.”
“If the Bevin campaign isn’t using the state-funded system to promote his candidacy, someone is doing it on his behalf,” Campbell said. “Either way, it’s the use of a publicly-funded asset for electioneering. And that’s just wrong.”
In an email Wednesday evening, Bevin campaign manager Davis Paine forwarded another email sent by a local union representative to teachers on state emails; it was an opinion piece from the Herald-Leader critical of Bevin’s educational policies.
“The KEA has once again proven it is merely the mouthpiece of the Beshear campaign and their hypocrisy is mind boggling,” he wrote. “Unlike their false accusations toward our campaign, there is clear evidence of KEA officials engaging in this tactic.”
This post has been updated with Paine and Lewis’s comments.