HB208 is a gift. Please don’t squander it.

House Bill 208 has been called the “Force Everyone Back to In-Person School Before It’s Safe” Bill, and (quoting House Speaker David Osborne) it “finally” passed the Kentucky General Assembly yesterday.

Let’s talk about how “desperate” some of the folks are behind this bill, and then let’s look at why. Let’s also talk about how long this process actually took before the bill became law (Hint: it flew through secret, rescheduled, relocated committee meetings and passed the Senate the same day a new committee sub was introduced, and onto the floor of the House the very next day.). Let’s talk about how much misinformation went in to lawmakers supporting this obscenely wrongheaded, judgmental, punitive, and frankly, racist, bill. But before we part ways, let’s also talk about why this moment was a major GOP miscalculation, and how we can pick up their fumbled ball and run with it.

As I pointed out in yesterday’s blog piece on Dear JCPS, HB208 started out as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The bill’s sponsors, and most of those who voted “yes,” had apparently been misled into believing this bill was nothing more than a “funding bill”, and not to worry about the part that forced districts to return in person in order to receive their funding. When more hands got in the mix, a floor amendment was added that took away the wolf’s teeth. That caused the ultra-right “Let them Learn” parents and ALEC-backed groups like BIPPS, to show their true motives, and suddenly come out against the bill and hope to kill the funding mechanism that allowed schools like JCPS to continue to receive funding even after they had successfully stripped the governor’s executive powers that allowed them to move to NTI for more than 10 days in the first place. HB208 is not as bad as they wanted it to be, but still worse than it should be, so now neither side is happy. Except, perhaps, the bill sponsors and schemers, who seem to be satisfied that the fear of HB208 passing still forced JCPS school board to vote 4-3 to resume to in-person instruction on March 17. At least Rep. Jerry Miller is pleased his grandchild can return to in-person schooling, regardless of the danger it could mean to their Black classmates, teachers and families. Although, I’m sure four members of the JCPS School Board are none too happy he blamed them for this bill’s and the district’s shortcomings. He should look in the mirror once in a while.

It’s true, there is nothing we can do to stop HB208 at this point. It passed both chambers and was signed by the Governor this morning. But there is still something we can do about the harmful impacts it will cause to vulnerable students around the state, of which JCPS has the highest number. For example, legislature could still pass HB579, the “Opt Out Bill.” This would empower parents with the right to make their own decisions about sending their students into school building only to subject them to harmful KPREP or other high-stakes testing, before it’s safe to do so, without punishing the student or the teacher for these intentional student absences. In addition, there are bills taking away transparency and criminalizing our right to protest. This should alarm everyone, not just those concerned about public education.

What are we willing to do about it?

Ideally, we should be taking this fight to Frankfort. But since it’s our milquetoast white leadership at the top of JCPS are satisfied with this continued power grab (no telling what they are getting out of the deal), we can’t wait for them to tell us what’s going on or when to charge the hill. They have been mostly silent on issues they should be fighting, but when they do go on the attack, it’s usually against their own members who are simply trying to stand up against Goliath since they won’t.

Because teachers unions in Kentucky can’t legally call for a strike, we know we can’t count on their leaders to lead this fight. Therefore, teachers and parents must take matters into our own hands.

One suggestion would be to organize picket lines outside the Annex next Friday, March 12th. Catch them as they are heading home for the weekend. For the more egregious offenders, organize pickets in their districts over the weekend. Then again on Monday morning. Make them have to drive through another line of picketers when they return to the Annex. No one is telling the teachers to show up, even during these final days they are able to work remotely, so it’s up to the parents, students and concerned taxpayers to lead.

Final days of Kentucky General Assembly 2021

Who will join me? I’ll bring hot chocolate and a share my hot spot. Let’s make a plan! I can be reached at moderator@dearjcps.com.

If you are interested in receiving emails from Dear JCPS about plans to organize and empower parents and students to opt out of in-person learning and testing, sign up here. Please also join The People’s Agenda Education Committee meeting every Monday at 4 PM via zoom. You may also visit the Dear JCPS website for our #OptOutToolkit.

Resources for HB208:

Read the 6-Page Committee Sub (The actual bill that passed)

Watch The Discussion (will update as time permits)

The Vote Counts

Also, be on the lookout for House Bill 563. The newest “school choice” bill will be heard in committee next Thursday.

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