Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin said that because public school teachers were protesting against proposed education cuts on Friday, resulting in over 30 school districts closing, children not in class were “sexually assaulted” and “physically harmed.”
“I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them,” the Republican governor told reporters on Friday afternoon.
“I guarantee you somewhere today a child was physically harmed or ingested poison because they were home alone because a single parent didn’t have any money to take care of them,” he added.
Bevin’s comments came as the Kentucky Senate voted 20-18 Friday to override his veto of House Bill 366, a tax measure which increased funding for public schools. The legislators pushed to stop the funding cuts after weeks of protests by teachers, who have been frustrated by a pension reform bill for public employees and the planned budget cuts to education.
Teachers unions slammed the comments as incredibly offensive.
“Is Governor Bevin out of his mind?” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in a comment to BuzzFeed News.
“Who is he suggesting would harm kids in this way if they were home or not in school? Is that what he thinks happens to Kentucky kids at night or on weekends?”
“Trying to divide teachers from kids is the vintage right-wing playbook used as an excuse to fail to fund public schools. The governor’s vileness just brings it to a grotesque level. Is he resorting to these disgusting comments because the legislature overrode his veto? Indeed, what teachers are doing through their actions is acting as a human shield for their students,” added Weingarten.
Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association (a teachers union in Louisville), also criticized the governor’s claims.
“I don’t think the governor’s comments are in any way accurate,” he told BuzzFeed News.
“With his reasoning, it wouldn’t be popular to have summer break which lasts for weeks. It’s really just absurd,” added McKim.
Brad Bowman, communications director for the Kentucky Democratic Party, also called out Bevin for his comments.
“Sexual assault is not something to joke about,” he told BuzzFeed News on Saturday. “And to use that as a weapon for his political rhetoric against people who are standing up for public education and teachers and public employees, which also includes fire fighters and police, it’s extremely and absurdly out of line.”
Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the National Education Association, said Bevin’s remarks were insulting to teachers.
“Governor Bevin’s statement is not only irrational and appalling, it is insulting to the educators and parents who are courageously and respectfully advocating for a better future for the Kentucky children,” said García.
On March 30, there was a “sick-out” (when teachers called in sick) against the pension reform bill. On April 2, thousands protested at the State Capitol in Frankfort.
For Friday’s rally, Kentucky State Police limited protesters to just 500 people inside the Capitol at once, reported the Lexington Herald Leader, with 4000-5000 people protesting outside.
Over 30 school districts closed on Friday because of the teachers’ protests.
“You know how many hundreds of thousands of children today were left home alone?” said Bevin on Friday afternoon.
“Children were harmed – some physically, some sexually, some were introduced to drugs for the first time – because they were vulnerable and left alone,” he said.
The president of the Kentucky Education Association, Stephanie Winkler, said on Twitter she was “appalled” at Bevin’s comments.
A Kentucky’s teachers union, Jefferson County Teachers Association, also tweeted their surprise at his comments.
Bevin’s office did not respond to a BuzzFeed News request asking if he has any evidence for his statements.
When asked by reporters what he thought of Friday’s teachers protest, Bevin described it with disdain.
“I saw a lot of people hanging out, shoes off — even early in the morning — hanging out smoking, leaving trash around, taking the day off,” said Bevin.