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News organizations sue Youngkin over school tip line emails

April 13, 2022 GMT

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Gov. Glenn Youngkin is violating the state’s public records law by refusing to turn over emails sent to a tip line he set up for parents to report “divisive practices” in their children’s schools, more than a dozen news organizations assert in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The news organizations, which include The Associated Press, each filed requests for records related to the tip line Youngkin established shortly after taking office in January. The lawsuit filed in Richmond Circuit Court says the requests were denied based on the administration’s contention that the emails are “working papers and correspondence” of the governor’s office and thus not required to be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act.

The lawsuit asks the court to order Youngkin’s office to turn over the records.

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“It just makes no sense and it’s inconsistent with the whole idea of public records law that the government set up a secret informant line to help it make policy but then doesn’t share the information with us,” said Chuck Tobin, an attorney for the press coalition.

Youngkin, a first-term Republican, faced a backlash from Democratic lawmakers and some teachers and parents during his first month in office after the email tip line became public.

Youngkin had campaigned heavily on education and a promise to give parents more say in their children’s curriculums. During his first month in office, he promoted the email tip line in an interview with a conservative radio host, urging parents to write with “any instances where they feel that their fundamental rights are being violated, where their children are not being respected, where there are inherently divisive practices in their schools.”

The tip line was part of a broader push by Youngkin to identify and root out what he says are elements of critical race theory in the state’s curriculum.

The news organizations argue in the lawsuit that emails sent to the tip line are not correspondence of the governor’s office and do not qualify to be withheld under the working papers exemption.

“E-mails sent to the Tip Line ... are public records under FOIA, are not exempt from disclosure, and should be disclosed,” the lawsuit states.

After the lawsuit was filed Wednesday, the governor’s office reiterated its claim that the emails are not public information.

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

In addition to The Associated Press, the news organizations include: Axios Media; CNN; the Daily Dot; Gannett Satellite Information Network; Gray Media Group; National Public Radio; NBCUniversal Media; Tegna; Scripps Media; Sinclair Broadcast Group; Tribune Publishing Co.; and WP Company.