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Media Outlets Sue Virginia’s Governor for Records of His Education Tip Line

April 14, 2022 by Tom Ramstack
Media Outlets Sue Virginia’s Governor for Records of His Education Tip Line
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, left, reacts as he talks with Sarah Gravitt-Baese, Chief Marketing Officer of the Richmond Food Bank during a visit to the facility in Richmond, Va., Friday, March 18, 2022. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

RICHMOND, Va. — A group of media outlets sued Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Wednesday over his refusal to turn over information about his administration’s email tip line for reporting “divisive” information taught in schools.

The media organizations filed Freedom of Information Act requests to gain access to the emails but Youngkin refused to turn them over.

The tips Youngkin sought from parents and others asked for reports that teachers were talking to students about mask mandates but evolved to include “critical race theory.”

The Associated Press, National Public Radio and The Washington Post are among the 13 media organizations suing.

Youngkin’s staff claims the emailed tips are exempt from disclosure under federal law because they represent the governor’s “working papers and correspondence.” Releasing them would violate the privacy of tipsters, according to the Youngkin administration.

Youngkin, a Republican, said during his campaign for governor that he would get rid of instruction about “critical race theory” and similar issues in Virginia’s public schools.

Critical race theory, which is mainly taught at a collegiate level, teaches that U.S. social institutions, such as the criminal justice system, education system and labor market, are imbued with racism in a way that creates different outcomes based on ethnicity.

Youngkin encouraged parents to report any teachers who taught what he called “divisive” concepts to helpeducation@governor.virginia.gov, shortly after he took office in January.

About the same time, he criticized school districts that complained about his ban on mask mandates to protect against the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the faculty members were not respecting the rights of parents to make decisions about the safety of their children.

The lawsuit by the media outlets denies the tip line emails “qualify for the Working Papers Exemption.” Instead, they “are public records under FOIA, are not exempt from disclosure, and should be disclosed,” the lawsuit says.

Youngkin’s tip line garnered national attention as well as criticism from politicians, civil rights activists and educators.

“Transparency is a fundamental part of government,” said Kris Worrell, editor-in-chief of The Virginian-Pilot, in a statement that explained why her organization was joining the lawsuit.

Some critics of Youngkin’s attempt to silence teachers through the tip line suggested flooding it with nonsense allegations to render it useless. They described it as an autocratic way of squelching academic freedom.

One critic was University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato, who said in a tweet, “Parents of all races should flood Youngkin’s tip line.”

Virginia attorney Qasim Rashid, who had access to some of the tips through his political connections, revealed a few of the outrageous ones.

“Albus Dumbeldor[e] was teaching that full blooded wizards discriminated against mudbloods! Fire him immediately,” one of the tips said.

Another one said, “My teenage son came home from school and told me his teachers are attempting to teach him! I’m outraged and find this completely unacceptable. Who do these teachers think they are? … This madness must stop!”

The fact that some of the tips already have been shared with a few persons or groups outside the governor’s office is mentioned in the media outlets’ lawsuit filed in Richmond Circuit Court.

One of the organizations that was given access is the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative public policy foundation that agrees with many of Youngkin’s policies.

The lawsuit seeks records from the tip line as well as reimbursement for legal costs and attorneys’ fees.

The case is listed as Associated Press v. Commonwealth of Virginia, Case No. CL22-1489, Richmond Circuit Court, filed April 13, 2022.

Tom can be reached at tom@thewellnews.com.

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