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Sickouts or Sellouts?

A behind the scenes look at Kentucky’s modern education reform history.

The day was March 28, 2019. It was the last day of a 30-day legislative session. Teachers in the state’s largest school district, Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) had just successfully “sicked out” six of the last seven days legislature was in session. I say “sickout” not strike, because it’s illegal for a union to call for a strike in Kentucky.

A number of predatory education bills, including HB205, the pension reform bill that put new teachers in a defined contribution plan, on the heals of 2018’s session, when a sewer bill was stripped in an effort to force a pension bill through in the dark of the night, kept JCPS teachers, and current and retired teachers across the state, on high alert.

By mid-March, district and union leaders were working out compromises, and failing at working out compromises, in an effort to get teachers to “settle down.” They also wanted “rouge groups” like Dear JCPS and other teacher-led groups like JCPS Leads and TRELF to stop encouraging it. They were going so far as to convince high-profile “pro-public education” JCTA-endorsed legislators from both political parties to write joint statements promising no more harmful legislation would be passed this legislative session, and then tagging us in their tweets.

After the last sickout on March 14th, there were no more days of session until March 28th. One lone day sitting on the horizon to cram as much garbage into the garbage disposal and see how much harm you can inflict on the unsuspecting before they are forced to gavel out at midnight. It’s like this every year. So why should teachers trust that a supermajority GOP-led legislature won’t mislead them this year?

For this reason, we decided to plan a rally in the Capitol Rotunda for the last day of session. We wanted to be prepared because we had every reason to believe that teachers and parents would be back.

But the gaslighting trying to keep coming out of JCTA leadership was strong. Emilie McKiernon Blanton wrote this opinion piece: JCPS teacher: We don’t need a sickout on Kentucky legislature’s last day

Meanwhile, we discovered that they have been playing switcheroo with BOE appointments.

On the last day of session, the rally began at 10 AM. We had speakers and provided materials to make posters. The turnout was lower than we had anticipated. We learned that JCTA had called for a meeting with teachers in the Annex at the same time as our rally in order to compete with our event. In addition, they only had 300 teachers sign up to come to Frankfort as delegates, instead of the 500 that was part of the compromise.

Following the rally, our group headed to the Senate steps to lobby Senators as they gathered for a noon assembly that day. At 11:55, I begin livestreaming from the Dear JCPS Facebook page, as we lobby Senators and encourage them to vote against the 9 resolutions.