Photo illustration: Maura Losch/Axios. Photo: Robb Hill/Getty Images.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s controversial whistleblower line has prompted statewide complaints about pandemic precautions, a symbolic ‘fairness month’ and, in one case, a professor’s poetry take Grade 12 English.
Why is this important: Youngkin created a national outcry just days into his administration when he launched the whistleblower line, urging parents to report schools teaching “inherently divisive concepts” – a term he used to describe in especially critical race theory. But the content of the emails has remained a mystery until now.
What is happening: Axios received 350 emails this week from the Youngkin administration as part of a legal settlement with a coalition of news organizations that have sued for access to the records.
- The cache is part of the thousands of emails the administration received. According to the settlement, Youngkin only delivered messages that were also sent to the Ministry of Education.
- Although incomplete, the documents provide an early window into the concerns that some state residents hoped Youngkin would address.
Enlarge: 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 is no control over what these (supposed) guardians might say to our children,” the parent wrote. “It seems like just another potential path 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 “Fairness Month.”
- “Equity is so entrenched in Chesterfield County that they are going to have to dismantle everything,” the email warned.
A Montgomery County high school student said he believes his English teacher violated Youngkin’s ban on teaching “divisive topics” by criticizing the portrayal of women in the 6th-century epic “Beowulf.”
- “She tries to make us believe that every storyline in the book is sexist in some way,” the student wrote.
Reality check: Many of the emails flagged potential issues with public schools, but had little to do with “divisive concepts.”
- Just over half were sent by a Richmond-area disability advocate who has long been at odds with school districts over accommodations for students with special needs.
To note: A dozen posts sought to subvert the whistleblower line by instead offering detailed compliments to teachers.
The big picture: Youngkin said he will use the whistleblower line to “uproot” and “label” critical race theory and “cases where (parents) feel their basic rights are violated,” but it’s unclear what. impact the messages had.
- The governor’s press secretary, Macaulay Porter, did not respond to questions about how Youngkin’s administration used the emails.
- Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Department for Education said it was “unaware of any policy decisions taken in response to information received from the whistleblower line”.
- Queries to school districts and organizations representing teachers and state superintendents have yielded no evidence that Youngkin’s administration interfered in local school decisions as a result of the emails.
Yes, but: There are hints that Ministry of Education staff were paying attention to the grades.
- In an email, a DOE employee said the agency would contact a private Montessori program in Charlottesville after an expectant parent complained about the school’s policy requiring masks, which is allowed by law. of State.
In other cases, Youngkin’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jillian Balow, relayed messages to other department staff.
- In response to an email complaining that Stafford County Public Schools violated distance learning rules, Balow forwarded the memo to his policy team “in case we are asked to speak to them to ask a derogation”.
What they say : Porter would not address the substance of the messages, saying only in a statement that Youngkin considers the legal settlement a victory.
- This “preserves the principle that a voter’s communication with a governor is protected by law and exempt from FOIA,” she told Axios in an email. remain confidential.”
The plot: On Wednesday, the phone line appears to have been shut down.
- Emails sent by Axios were returned as undeliverable. Porter did not respond to a question about the status of the initiative.