Photo illustration: Maura Losch/Axios. Photo: Robb Hill/Getty Images.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s controversial school advisory line drew complaints from across the state about pandemic precautions, a symbolic “equality month” and, in one case, a 12th-grade English teacher’s stance on poetry.
Why it matters: Youngkin created a national uproar just days into his administration when he launched the tip line, asking parents to report schools that teach “fundamentally divisive concepts” — a term he has used to describe critical theory in particular. breed. But the content of the emails has remained a mystery until now.
What is happening: Axios obtained 350 emails from the Youngkin administration this week as part of a legal settlement with a coalition of news organizations that sued for access to the records.
- The cache is part of the thousands of e-mails the administration has received. According to the settlement, Youngkin only submitted messages that were also sent to the Department of Education.
- While incomplete, the documents provide the first window into concerns some state residents hoped Youngkin would address.
Zoom in: A Fairfax County parent copied Youngkin in an email to local school administrators complaining about a free online tutoring program offered by the district.
- “There are no checks on what these (alleged) teachers can say to our children,” the parent wrote. “This seems like another potential avenue for unknown perverts to gain 1-on-1 access to our children.”
In Chesterfield County, someone complained that the school board had named March 2022 “Equality Month.”
- “Equity is so entrenched in Chesterfield County that they will have to dismantle everything,” the email warned.
A Montgomery County high school student reported that they believed their English teacher was violating Youngkin’s ban on teaching “divisive subjects” by criticizing the portrayal of women in the sixth-century epic poem “Beowulf.”
- “She tries to make us believe that every scenario in the book is sexist in some way,” the student wrote.
Reality check: Many of the emails flagged potential problems with public schools, but had little to do with “divisive concepts.”
- Just over half were sent by a Richmond-area advocate for children with disabilities, who has long been at odds with school districts over accommodations provided to students with special needs.
It’s worth to mention: About a dozen messages aimed to subvert the tip line by offering detailed compliments to teachers.
The big picture: Youngkin said he would use the tip line to “root out” and “catalogue” critical race theory and “cases where (parents) feel their basic rights are being violated,” but it’s unclear what impact the messages had.
- Gov. Macaulay Porter’s press secretary did not respond to questions about how the Youngkin administration used the emails.
- Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Department for Education said it was “not aware of any policy decisions made in response to information received from the tipline”.
- Inquiries to school districts and organizations representing teachers and superintendents across the state turned up no evidence that the Youngkin administration interfered in local school decisions as a result of the emails.
Yes but: There are indications that Department of Education staff were paying attention to the notes.
- In an email, a DOE employee indicated the agency would contact a private Montessori program in Charlottesville after a prospective parent complained about the school’s policy requiring masks, which is allowed under state law.
At other times, Youngkin Public Instruction Supervisor Jillian Balow relayed messages to other department staff.
- In response to an email complaining that Stafford County Public Schools had violated rules around distance learning, Balow forwarded the note to her policy team “in case we’re asked to talk to them about applying for a waiver.”
What they say: Porter would not address the substance of the messages, saying in a statement only that Youngkin considers the legal settlement a victory.
- It “maintains the principle that a constituent’s communication with a Governor is protected under the law and exempt from FOIA,” she told Axios in an email. “The governor wants constituents to be able to contact him without fear that their communications will not be kept confidential.”
Plot: As of Wednesday, the tip line appears to have been closed.
- Emails sent by Axios were returned as unusable. Porter did not respond to a question about the status of the initiative.