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Kentucky Schools Chief Urges Teachers to Stop Sending Him 'Hateful' Emails

180420_CommissionerWayneLewis01_be.jpgThe Kentucky education chief has appealed to teachers across the state to stop sending him "incredibly nasty and disrespecful messages" over his proposal on charter schools.

On Nov. 9, Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said at a state charter school advisory council meeting that he would ask the state legislature to create a funding mechanism for charter schools. Kentucky passed a law allowing charter schools in 2017, but none have opened because they cannot currently receive state funding. Lewis has said that he wants per-pupil state dollars to follow students to public charter schools.

Since then, Lewis has received furious emails from teachers, including some that contained personal attacks, he told the Kentucky Herald-Leader. Many teachers in the state have been staunchly opposed to charter schools, with some holding signs of protest during the spring walkouts. Critics of Lewis' proposal to create a funding stream for charter schools say that traditional public schools would pay the price, since they would lose money as students leave but still have fixed costs, like electricity.

In an email on Friday that went to every educator in Kentucky, Lewis urged teachers to "stop and think about the example we are setting for our children. ... At the end of the day, the words we use to defend our beliefs are reflective of us as individuals, but can have unintended consequences when used in a destructive manner." 

He wrote that he has never before received such "hateful and disrespectful emails ... from people who teach Kentucky children."

Some of the emails were sent from teachers' official district email addresses and included personal attacks on Lewis. One email, obtained by the Louisville Courier-Journal, included a homophobic comment and said Lewis would "answer to the Lord one day and you know what's going to happen if you don't change your ways."

Lewis forwarded that email to the teacher's district superintendent, and the teacher was fired, the Courier-Journal reported. The teacher plans to contest her termination. 

This is the latest chapter in a contentious relationship between Kentucky teachers and state leaders. In the spring, Gov. Matt Bevin called teachers "selfish and short-sighted" for protesting controversial changes to the state's underfunded pension system. After teachers walked out of their classrooms to protest the pension reform bill, Bevin said they were "punish[ing] students" and later "guarantee[d]" that children were sexually abused because they were left home alone during school closures. He later apologized for those remarks. 

Lewis was officially named the state's education commissioner by the state board of education in October, after serving in the role on an interim basis since April. He replaced Stephen Pruitt, a former science teacher who resigned under pressure from the state board. Since Lewis took office, he has clashed with the state teachers' union on several occasions, including over charter schools. 

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