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Youngkin's office will not release 'divisive practices' tip line emails to the public

Governor Youngkin's office denied a public records request, opting to keep the messages secret while making evaluations on the teachings of race in Virginia schools.

NORFOLK, Va. — Do parents and teachers agree with Governor Glenn Youngkin, that there are “divisive practices” when it comes to teaching about race and history in schools that need to be “rooted out?” Or, do they have something else to say?

Don't expect answers from the Governor's office.

Emails sent to the 'helpeducation@governor.virginia.gov' tip line are being withheld as “working papers and correspondence of the Office of the Governor.”

13News Now Investigative Reporter Evan Watson submitted a records request for these messages to the tip line. It was denied on Wednesday. 

This exemption cited is discretionary, meaning Youngkin’s office could release the emails, but it’s choosing not to do that. Instead, the office is opting to keep the messages secret while making evaluations on the teachings of race in Virginia schools.

Megan Rhyne, executive director for the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said if anonymity is a concern, the Governor's office could redact the names of people who emailed the tip line before releasing the messages to the public, but it's deciding not to do that either. 

"I think the response is probably sound and also totally predictable," Rhyne said. "The Governor's office is making a choice -- despite intense public interest from the public, parents, students, teachers, and school administrators -- to keep this information secret."

Some educators said secretive tip lines or talks of banning certain books and teachings about race and history in public education could produce a chilling effect for teachers.

"If we don’t challenge those things, we’ll get more of the same, and our going back to normal will be oppression, division, and those things we’ve distorted Critical Race Theory to mean," said Dr. Shuntay Tarver, an ODU professor, in a previous interview with 13News Now.

RELATED: Critical Race Theory: What's the truth and why are we talking about this now?

The use of a Governor’s office email address is what makes the records denial possible, per Virginia state code. If a different state email address had been used, such as a Virginia Department of Education email address, the messages could have been subject to release.

"Having a tip line like this pits parents against educators and undermines the professional respect and integrity of our educators," said Kathleen Slinde, Virginia Beach Education Association.

Last week, some parents and educators said they sent positive and encouraging messages to the tip line, in support of school teachings on race and history.

13News Now asked the governor’s office to explain why it decided not to share the emails from parents and teachers sent to the tip line. As of Thursday afternoon, the office had not responded. 

Matt Callahan, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Virginia, said the decision does not live up to standards of transparency. 

“The governor owes the public transparency over this new program," Callahan said. "His attempt to stretch the ‘working papers’ exemption to the Freedom of Information Act to cover these emails is deeply concerning and something the ACLU of Virginia is watching closely."

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