The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Media outlets file suit over Va. Gov. Youngkin’s teacher tip line

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. (Steve Helber/AP)
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RICHMOND — The Washington Post and a dozen other media outlets sued Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Wednesday over his administration’s refusal to release records related to a tip line he established for parents to report school officials who are teaching “divisive” subjects or otherwise behaving in ways deemed objectionable.

Youngkin (R), who won the governorship last fall on a promise to stamp out “critical race theory” and other “divisive” concepts in public education, announced in January that he had created the tip line for parents to report on teachers who bring those things into the classroom.

At the time, The Post and the other media organizations separately requested copies of the tip line submissions under the Freedom of Information Act. The Youngkin administration denied those requests, saying that the submissions were covered by exemptions for a governor’s “working papers and correspondence.”

Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter stood by that decision Wednesday.

“When a constituent writes to the Governor he treats that communication as confidential and would not share the contents with the public,” she said in an email Wednesday. “There is an expectation of privacy that he takes very seriously.”

Soon after he assumed office in January, Youngkin encouraged parents to report on teachers who present “divisive” concepts through the tip line, at helpeducation@governor.virginia.gov.

“We’re asking for folks to send us reports and observations,” Youngkin said in a radio interview at the time. “Help us be aware of … their child being denied their rights that parents have in Virginia, and we’re going to make sure we catalogue it all. … And that gives us further, further ability to make sure we’re rooting it out.”

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Calling the tip line an “Orwellian” attempt to intimidate teachers, critics suggested on Twitter that Virginians flood the tip line with faux tattletales, such as one sarcastic dire warning that Virginia schools were teaching “Arabic numerals.” But the actual submissions have remained a state secret.

Filed in Richmond Circuit Court by a media coalition that includes the Associated Press, Tribune Publishing and NPR, the lawsuit contends that exemptions for working papers and correspondence do not apply to the tip line submissions — in part because, according to the suit, the submissions were shared with individuals outside of the governor’s office, including the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank.

Porter did not immediately respond to a question about whether emails were shared with AEI.

The suit seeks access to the tip line submissions and reimbursement for attorneys’ fees and other costs.

Washington attorneys Charles D. Tobin and Alia L. Smith represent the media outlets, which also include Axios Media, CNN, Daily Dot, Gannett Satellite Information Network, Gray Media Group, NBCUniversal Media, Tegna, Scripps Media and Sinclair Broadcast Group.

A political newcomer and former private equity executive, Youngkin made K-12 culture war issues central to his closing argument in last fall’s campaign. He criticized Democrats for extended school closures and mask mandates amid the coronavirus pandemic and accused school authorities of trying to “indoctrinate” students on matters of race.

After riding a wave of parental grievance to the Executive Mansion, Youngkin has struggled to get most of his education priorities through a politically divided General Assembly. A few Senate Democrats sided with Republicans to deliver Youngkin his biggest win: passage of a law giving parents the right to opt their children out of school mask mandates.

But Youngkin’s efforts to ban the teaching of “divisive” concepts died in the Democratic-controlled Senate, as did measures to create charter schools.

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