After receiving “incredibly nasty” emails from teachers that launched “personal attacks” on his character, Kentucky Education Chief Wayne Lewis issued a call for civility to the state’s educators.
“This week, I’ve received the most hateful and disrespectful emails I’ve ever been sent, from people who teach Kentucky children,” Lewis wrote in an email that was sent Friday afternoon to every teacher in Kentucky.
“While I am well aware that some disagree with me on various issues – and have every right to disagree – I believe we can and should have civil conversations without being disrespectful,” he said.
In the email, Lewis did not detail what teachers said to him in the messages that he deemed as attacks on his character. The Courier Journal obtained under the state’s public records law two emails in question that were sent using teachers’ school email accounts.
One email was sent by Kira Hesse, a teacher with Meade County Schools in Brandenburg.
“Stop sending us emails,” Hesse said in an email dated Nov. 9. “We don’t like your agenda. We don’t want your business please go back to where you came from. You and your butt buddies can go ruin another state. You’ll answer to the Lord one day and you know what’s going to happen if you don’t change your ways.”
An attorney for Hesse told the Courier Journal on Saturday that Hesse had been fired as a result of the incident. Shelly Henry, of the Louisville firm Craig Henry PLC, said Hesse would contest the firing.
Lewis “did not choose to engage in civil discourse but instead forwarded her email to her district superintendent which resulted in her termination,” Henry said. “If he really believed in civil discourse he would have engaged with her and not taken steps that resulted in the loss of her position. (Hesse) has the right to have that decision reviewed by a neutral tribunal. She is exercising that right and looks forward to the outcome of that process.”
A second email, dated Nov. 15, was sent by Kumar Rashad, a teacher with Jefferson County Public Schools.
“Nobody wants funding for charter schools except people who don’t care about brown and black kids,” Rashad said. “This is disgraceful and disrespects all great black leaders current and past. ALL Reputable Research shows that charter schools devastate minority communities. Systemic racism perpetrated by a man of color is the same reasoning that made some people of color become overseers during slavery. Sorry for bothering you with this ‘Massa’ >: (.”
Rashad did not immediately return an emailed request for comment.
in the wake of an announcement that he would press the state legislature in its upcoming session to pass a funding mechanism for charter schools. The publicly-funded but privately-managed schools have been a lightning rod of controversy in Kentucky since a Republican-controlled General Assembly in 2017 passed a law allowing for them.
While Lewis has said he views the schools as a high-quality option for families dissatisfied with their traditional district schools, critics have pointed to charter failures in other states, including cases of financial malfeasance and poor academic results. Lewis has stood by the schools, insisting that the state’s charter school law provides guardrails that would prevent similarly troubling events from happening in Kentucky.
In an interview with the Courier Journal on Saturday, Lewis said he is open to criticism but it was “completely inappropriate” of the teachers to use their government-issued emails to send the content included in the messages.
“We have no objections whatsoever to people disagreeing with us, from emailing us,” he said. “But when it steps over that line in the way that these messages have, we’re going to call that out and we’re going to say that’s completely inappropriate.”
Lewis said he has received dozens of emails that “were not nice,” especially during the JCPS takeover debate, but none before had crossed such personal bounds.
As for the racially-tinged charter school criticism he received, Lewis said he believes many Kentucky teachers have been misinformed about black and brown families’ opinions of the schools. He pointed to surveys from the University of Southern California that show widespread support for the schools among parents of color.
Lewis said he’s been baffled by the intensity of criticism he’s received.
“You would struggle to find a difference in my positions on public education and those of President Obama. And I don’t hear folks in Kentucky criticizing Obama,” he said.
In response to his call for civility, Lewis received several messages of support form teachers and district leaders, said Jessica Fletcher, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education.
Excerpts from Lewis’ email were shared on social media on Friday evening.
Keith Davis, former superintendent of Bullitt County Schools, said in a post on Twitter that he agreed with Lewis.
“The personal attacks only divide,” Davis said. “Question his reasoning, but not his humanity. When the proposals for charter funding are revealed, evaluate and attack that if appropriate.
“Too much hate.”
Written by Mandy McLaren. Cross-posted from the
Courier-Journal via the Kentucky Press News Service.