Hundreds of angry teachers closed schools across Kentucky a week ago Friday. They called in sick to protest the pension theft bill that passed through the Kentucky legislature earlier that week.
From the eastern half of the state bordering West Virginia to the northern region near Ohio, 29 school districts were unable to hold classes.
Monday, the start of Spring Break, thousands of teachers protested at the Kentucky capitol, a part of the national teacher revolt that started in West Virginia and has since hit Oklahoma and Arizona as well as Kentucky.
National union leaders seemed to be as caught off guard by the rank and file revolt as were the state’s politicians. Much of what has gone on has been organized through Facebook and closed on-line groups of local teachers and education employees.
National Democrats are hoping to use the teacher revolt against Republicans in the November election. On the other hand they are conflicted about being connected to teacher unions and the verbal support has been tepid. No national Democrat has personally shown up in support of any of the states’ teacher revolts.
Kentucky teachers are supposed to return to classrooms this Monday morning.
The Kentucky Education Association met this past weekend in a state meeting and voted to return to work.
Teacher strikes are illegal in Kentucky.
Nema Brewer has emerged as a rank and file leader among classified (non-teaching) school employees. She established the group KY 120 United.
For weeks, teachers across Kentucky have taken to platforms such as Facebook to vent their frustrations over not just a trying legislative session, but over years of perceived disrespect toward their profession.
Some of the coordination has taken place within “secret” Facebook groups, where only teachers and other school-based staff are allowed to join. At least three such groups have sprung up over the past month, including the largest, “KY 120 UNITED,” which Brewer created.
But as more teachers find solidarity online, the inevitable has occurred: In a group of thousands of people, not everyone agrees on the best step forward. Online posts reveal a growing fissure among the state’s educators.
While some have pushed for a statewide sickout similar to the one that shut down nearly 30 school districts on March 30, others have questioned what that would accomplish.
“I’m not calling in sick unless there is some kind of plan to go along with it. We’ll lose the public if school closes for no reason,” read one post in a secret group viewed by Courier Journal.
Brewer said similar discussions are taking place in the Facebook group she created, which, as of Friday, had more than 39,000 members.
Speaking with one Kentucky teacher this weekend I was told, “The sickout may happen in Jefferson County where there is a shortage of substitutes. Combined with some teachers who are angry, the Jefferson County schools may have to close because the Governor has indicated we will lose our sick days as a result of the ‘reform.'”
This Kentucky teacher told me, “I support Nema. We come at this from slightly different angles. She is from the classified group. I am a teacher. But we are both on a sinking Titanic,” he said, referring to the Kentucky school system.