Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb today became the first governor since Linwood Holton to send his children to Richmond's predominantly black public school system, an action that brought him immediate criticism from the Richmond News-Leader, this city's staunchly conservative afternoon newspaper.

As reporters and photographers watched, Robb and his wife, Lynda, saw their daughters Lucinda, 13, and Catherine, 12, off from the Governor's Mansion this morning with kisses and exhortations to "have a good day." The two girls were then chauffeured by a plainclothes state trooper to schools in the West End of the city, where other teams of newsmen were camped to cover their arrival.

A third daughter, 4-year-old Jennifer, will enter a preschool program at another public school next week.

No sooner had the girls departed, however, then Robb found himself under attack from a familiar quarter. Calling the school decision a "gimmick," the News-Leader used the occasion to launch into another of its many broadsides against the court-ordered busing plan that Richmond has been under for 11 years.

Robb press secretary George Stoddart called the editorial "incorrect on its face", but declined to comment on the newspaper's motives. Despite weeks of unwanted publicity over the issue, Stoddart said, Robb and his wife had viewed the choice of where to send their daughters as "intensely personal." When they lived in McLean, the two eldest Robb daughters attended private schools.

The education of the children of Virginia's governors has been a highly publicized and emotional issue since Republican Holton personally escorted his 13-year-old daughter to an integrated city school in 1970. The action won Holton national publicity and considerable local criticism in light of Virginia's legacy of "massive resistance" to school desegregation. Former Gov. Colgate Darden called Holton's act "the most significant happening in this commonwealth during my lifetime."

The News-Leader, which had championed "massive resistance" during the 1950's, argued today that, unlike Holton, Robb did not send his children to the schools in the attendance zone where the Executive Mansion is located. Instead he exercised his unique privilege as governor and sent them elsewhere in the city.

"The governor presumably has examined the Capitol Square attendance-zone schools and found them wanting -- the reason for which may be compulsory busing . . . " the newspaper said today. "In exercising a 'gimmick' available to no one else, the governor has shown himself to be not so much a ballyhooed participant in or supporter of a school system designed for the common man as an eager member of a privileged one-man elite."

Richmond school spokesman Nathaniel Lee said that the News-Leader editorial "doesn't surprise me". He also noted that there is "no significant difference" in the racial balance of the schools where the Robbs send their children (all three are more than 83 percent black) and the schools in the Capitol Square attendance zone.