FROM THE COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL

Andy Beshear

Beshear Demands Governor Rescind Unlawful ‘Sickout’ Subpoenas

Attorney General Andy Beshear is calling on the governor and the Labor Cabinet to rescind the unlawful subpoenas recently sent to local school districts. He has given them 10 days to take action.

The subpoenas seek records and the names of teachers who may have participated in recent “sickouts.” They were issued by the Labor Cabinet as part of a supposed inquiry into possible violations of labor law. The education commissioner recently stated such violations could result in $1,000 fines to individual teachers.

Beshear writes in his letter, sent Tuesday, that the “sickouts” do not violate labor law, that any attempt to fine a member of a “sickout” would violate their First Amendment rights. Beshear adds that the Bevin administration’s actions may constitute “intimidation, threats or coercion” in violation of state law.

“The governor and his administration are directly threatening teachers in an attempt to keep them from exercising their constitutional rights,” said Beshear. “These ‘sickout’ subpoenas represent another abuse of power by the governor and they must be rescinded.”

Beshear said if the subpoenas are not withdrawn he will protect the public he serves.

The subpoenas were sent to various school districts in response to demonstrations by teachers advocating for public education at the state Capitol earlier this year.

The so-called “sickouts” were not related to conditions of the school employees’ employment, but instead related to a perceived “attack” on public school funding, and therefore constitute free speech protected by the First Amendment.

Beshear said teachers do not surrender their constitutional right to free speech, to peaceably assemble and to make a complaint to, or seek the assistance from government without fear of punishment when they become public employees.

The letter also points to a similar case out of Michigan where a court found that a teachers’ “sickout” was based on “complaints to the state government to rectify educational, financial and structural problems in the Detroit Public School District, and not issues concerning the rights, privileges or conditions of their employment.” The court found their actions were not in violation of the state’s labor laws, but instead constitutionally protected free speech.

Given the similarity to Kentucky, Beshear said it is clear these actions are protected by the First Amendment, meaning that if the Labor Cabinet continues, it will lose and – like the Detroit school district – waste thousands of taxpayer dollars on legal fees.

As the state’s chief law enforcement officer, it is Beshear’s duty to protect the people of Kentucky.

Since taking office, Beshear has had to take action multiple times when the governor attacked public education and educators by failing to follow state laws and the Constitution.

Beshear sued the governor when he illegally cut the budgets of the state’s universities. The Kentucky Supreme Court agreed the cuts were illegal and the governor was forced to return $18 million to the universities.

Beshear also challenged the governor over a sewer bill turned pension bill that illegally stripped retirement benefits from more than 250,000 teachers and public employees. Beshear stopped the harmful cuts to the earned benefits of public employees by winning the case in front of the Kentucky Supreme Court last year.

Last week, Beshear argued in front of the Supreme Court that the governor does not have the authority to rewrite state laws that control the independence of the public school board systems. A ruling in that case is pending.

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