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Kentucky’s top education official resigns over anti-LGBTQ+ law

A middle-aged man in a blazer speaks at the head of a table.
Jess Clark
/
LPM
Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass says he's resigning over new state restrictions on LGBTQ+ students.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass says he’d rather leave his job than be charged with implementing new restrictions on transgender students under Senate Bill 150.

Glass announced his resignation Monday. In a conversation with reporters Tuesday, Glass explained his decision.

“Of course my decision to leave was influenced by the political situation that we find ourselves in in Kentucky, but also in many other places across the nation,” Glass said.

“I do not wish to be part of implementing the dangerous and unconstitutional anti-LGBTQI law that the Legislature passed this last session. So it is time for me to move on.”

Glass was referring to Senate Bill 150, which requires local school districts to prohibit transgender students from using bathrooms that match their gender. It also restricts classroom speech on sex education, gender identity and sexual orientation, and allows school staff to intentionally misgender students.

SB 150 also bans gender-affirming medical care for minors.

Glass has clashed with conservative Republican politicians since2021, when he spoke out against proposed legislation targeting classroom speech on systemic racism and patriarchy. The bills were part of a national right-wing attack on so-called “critical race theory,” a phrase co-opted to refer to a wide variety of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives some conservatives object to.

Over the course of his tenure, state lawmakers repeatedly drew Glass into committee hearings to question him over his support for racial equity initiatives and policies that are respectful of LGBTQ+ students and staff. Pressure grew on Glass as Republicans made him a popular scapegoat during the 2022 legislative session and Republican gubernatorial primary.

Glass said SB 150 was the final straw, along with a new law that requires the education commissioner to be confirmed by the Senate, which has a Republican supermajority.

The Kentucky native said the state Department of Education should remain an “independent agency,” removed from politics.

“When you create a process where that person now has to be confirmed by, in this case, a hyper-partisan Senate — that changes things. And so I don't wish to be working under the political pressures that will come with that,” he said.

Glass, who was hired in 2020, is leaving his post one year before his contract ends. He would have faced Senate confirmation in September 2024 if the Kentucky Board of Education chose to renew his contract. He’s been on the job hunt since at least May, when news leaked he was being considered to lead Baltimore County Public Schools.

Glass will be leaving to accept a job as Associate Vice President of Teaching and Learning at Western Michigan University.

“I'm really concerned about the future of education, just not here in Kentucky, but nationally, given the partisan divide that we find ourselves in right now,” Glass said.

Glass said politicians are intentionally “injecting partisan politics into education” as a way to drive people to the polls, particularly during the governor’s race in Kentucky.

“I understand there's a desire to sort of amplify [and] anger a base to keep them turning out in an election in this state right now. It all has to do with this gubernatorial election coming up. … And honestly, there's been some success that the Republican Party has had using that strategy in other states. And so they're probably going to continue that until they're given a reason not to,” Glass said.

That strategy, Glass said, is a “threat” not just to public education, but to the economy and to democracy.

Asked about whether he believes any successor will be able to work with state lawmakers while also attending to the needs of all Kentucky students, Glass said he believes it will become “more and more difficult” for KDE to remain independent of politics.

He wished the state board of education well in their search for his replacement, though he acknowledged it will be a challenge given the nationwide political pressure on state education officials.

“I wish them the best in that search and in that transition and hope that they can find someone that's incredible, because Kentucky deserves that,” he said.

The KBE is meeting mid-August to discuss finding an interim commissioner. Glass’ last day will be Sept. 29.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

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Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.