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Is the Kentucky GOP Trying to Intimidate Democratic Teachers Into Not Running for Office?

December 16, 2018

It seems so.

On December 14, 2018, Kentucky’s Courier Journal reported that the Kentucky GOP has filed numerous public records requests for teacher emails, and it seems that these requests are little more than an attempt to intimidate Democratic teachers from running for office.

In November 2018, an astounding 51 Kentucky teachers ran for election for the Kentucky House and Senate, with 36 running as Democrats.

According to the October 05, 2018, Courier Journal, issues prompting Kentucky’s classroom teachers to seek to win political office include “state budgets with no money for teacher raises, the passage of a law allowing charter schools and a proposal to cut teachers’ pension benefits.” Even then, the idea that Democrats would upset the Kentucky General Assembly was considered a long shot.

And indeed, following the November 2018 elections, Republicans maintained control of both legislative chambers.

Now about those requests for teacher emails:

It seems that the Kentucky GOP began sending public records requests for teacher emails in October 2018– prior to the November 2018 election. What I believe indicates an intent to intimidate is the fact that even though most Democratic teachers lost, the Kentucky GOP continued its teacher records requests after the election, as the December 14, 2018, Courier Journal notes:

[Teacher Dustin] Allen said his superintendent informed him that he received an open records request asking for any of Allen’s emails that included a slew of different keywords, including “charter schools,” “sewer bill,” “Bevin” and “#120Strong” — a reference to a hashtag used by advocates urging teachers in all 120 of Kentucky’s counties to stand united against the controversial pension reform bill.

Republican Party of Kentucky spokesman Tres Watson confirmed that Jake Cox, deputy communications director for the party, submitted records requests to school districts but declined to say which ones or how many. He said at least two, including Laurel County, have denied the requests on the grounds that the requests were “overly broad” and “vague.”

The first records request was sent in October, Watson said, after the party got some tips “about a lot of extremely, directly political email traffic going through the school system on teachers’ emails.”

After the election, the party decided to see if there were similar issues in other counties, so it submitted more records requests, he said.

Watson denied the requests were meant as intimidation, saying they were about “information gathering, whether government resources are used for political activity, and how widespread it is.” He said the party is trying to “decide what to do with all this stuff” after seeing what it finds in the emails.

I’m not too keen on Watson’s comment about GOP’s “deciding what to do with all this stuff.”

It doesn’t seem that this “stuff” concerns emails of Republican teachers who ran for office. Note that the Courier Journal article was able to confirm GOP requests for some Democratic teacher emails but that it was not able to confirm GOP requests for any Republican teacher emails.

The publication was able to confirm that there were no GOP records requests for Travis Brenda, the Republican who unseated Kentucky House Leader, Jonathan Shell, in Kentucky’s May 2018 Republican primary:

Rockcastle County Schools — which employed Travis Brenda, the Republican who upset House Republican Leader Jonathan Shell in the primaries — said it had not received any similar records request.

Having one’s emails sifted by a political entity is intimidating. However, GOP efforts to intimidate Democratic teachers could backfire, prompting more of Kentucky’s Democratic teachers (and even Republican teachers who find this GOP ploy distasteful) to run for office in the future.

If nothing else, there might be a notable increase in Kentucky citizens who file public records requests to better understand the goings-on of their GOP politicians.

To learn more about Kentucky’s open records and open meetings act and how to access such records, see this publication from the Kentucky attorney general’s office.



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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

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  1. No, just showing ’em how bad it will get if they don’t …

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