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LISTEN: Kentucky Teachers, Parents, Students Discuss Friday's 'Sick Out'

Students and parents rally in Anchorage on Friday, March 30, 2018.
Students and parents rally in Anchorage on Friday, March 30, 2018.

Dozens gathered outside of Anchorage Public School on Friday (pictured above). Though school was open, parents, students and other teachers wanted to show their support for many teachers who called in sick to protest the Kentucky General Assembly’s move Thursday evening to approve a last-minute pension overhaul bill that was attached to a measure addressing sewage districts.

“To me, teachers teach people to follow the rules and apparently our legislators don’t believe in rules,” said Anchorage Independent School District parent Rosanna Gabriele. “And so I think it’s important to support our teachers and teachers all across the state who work hard to ensure our kids get a great education and so I’m here for them.”

Eric Evans, a teacher at Lincoln Elementary Performing Arts School — part of JCPS — said he knew what he had to do this morning when he heard of the bill’s passage. 

“I called out because I got sick,” he said. “I think anybody would get sick when they found out their social security was in jeopardy for no reason.”

The bill also caps sick leave for teachers and certain teachers would not receive a four percent return on their retirement savings, as well as including other provisions that overhauls the teacher pension system.

Many, like educator Sara McCutcheon, had problems with the way the bill was passed. 

“I mean it was absolute shock,” McCutcheon said. “And then it followed very quickly by disgust once we realized the methodology they used in order to get it passed.”

The 291-page bill was added on to the sewage district bill late in the process. Many say though legislators voted on the bill, no one had a chance to read it.

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear says he plans to challenge the bill in court. He says an analysis wasn’t done on the plan to even see if it would save money.

Pat Saros is a teacher in Pike County.  She’s planning to retire in the next few years. Though she understood the sick out, she didn’t feel like it should’ve happened. 

“I didn’t think it was a good idea because it wasn’t the school system’s fault; it’s our legislators fault,” she said. “And I didn’t think it would be fair to the students … we have to be there for them. That’s why we’re out there teaching.”

But at the same time, Saros does think there should be a planned statewide effort to make a statement.

“I think what we have to do is we’re going to have to have a statewide walkout,” she said. “What’s it going to do I don’t know, except to show them we mean business.”

In late February, West Virginia teachers went on strike for more than a week for more pay. They reached a deal earlier this month with the governor. The teachers union and the governor agreed to a five percent raise.

Many believe that the mobilization spurred movements among teachers in other states such as Oklahoma and Arizona.

Kentucky teachers like Paul Helvey saw the movement in West Virginia as inspirational. 

“Once we say what happened in West Virginia, we understood that this could be done,” he said. 

Helvey was in Frankfort Thursday night. But he’s not sure if he’ll go again anytime soon around this issue. 

“After my experience last night I don’t know if going to Frankfort is the answer,” Helvey said. “At this point we need to go our communities to take to the streets in a respectful and loving way. When it comes to teachers we always expect them to make sacrifices and to be the ones kind of … that ultimately get the short end of the stick and still expect them to do their jobs well.”

“If [teachers] don't have the support from their employers to be capable of having a secure future after doing so much for me and so many of my friends, then they should continue fighting,” said Atherton High School student Galen Ariel Zavala Sherby. “They should go on strike." 

But mobilization can take its toll. Anna Pipes is a parent with a son in Meyzeek Middle School and has been participating and watching all of the activism in education, from pensions to school walkouts from students and teachers.

“I’m not gonna lie; I feel a little fatigued lately from March For Our Lives … and this,” she said.

Though Spring Break starts next week, many teachers will show up Monday morning in Frankfort for a rally.

Listen to this story in the player above.

Reporter Kyeland Jackson contributed to this story.

Roxanne Scott covers education for WFPL News.

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