RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A second lawsuit has been filed against Gov. Glenn Youngkin over his office’s refusal to share emails sent to a “tip line” that he asked parents to report any “inherently divisive practices” taught in schools.
The latest lawsuit was filed Monday in Arlington County Circuit Court by the Ballard Spahr law firm and the nonprofit ethics watchdog group American Oversight. It alleges the Youngkin administration has violated the Virginia Freedom of Information Act for withholding records related to the tip line.
In response to several Freedom of Information Act requests, Youngkin’s office said records linked to the tip line were being withheld because they are considered “working papers and correspondence of the Office of the Governor.”
“The Working Papers Exemption, however, does not apply to the records at issue, and Respondents’ claim there exist no records in response to certain of Petitioner’s requests strains credulity and suggests that an adequate search was not conducted,” the second lawsuit argues.
Heather Sawyer, American Oversight’s executive director, brought the case forward after her requests for records of the emails were denied. Sawyer sought the number of tips, the protocol for handling the emails received, the types of tips submitted and how many investigations were opened after a tip, which the administration said were exempt from disclosure.
“From the start, this tip line has been criticized as a political ploy that puts teachers and public education at risk. The secrecy makes matters worse. While publicly defending the tip line, the Youngkin administration refuses to release records that would allow the public to decide for themselves,” Sawyer said in a statement.
A spokesperson for Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares said Tuesday that the attorney general’s office does not comment on pending litigation.
“What is the tip line’s true purpose and how has the administration acted on these ‘tips’? What is it about this program that they don’t want the public to see?” Sawyer added in her statement.
The new lawsuit seeks a hearing and an injunction requiring Youngkin’s office to hand over documents that were requested.
Youngkin campaigned on giving Virginia parents more authority in school decisions and touted the email address during an appearance on The John Fredericks Show on Jan. 24. The governor called on parents to send “reports and observations” to make the state aware of any teaching concepts they consider divisive.
It was Fredericks, not Youngkin, who referred to the email address as a “tip line” for parents during the interview.
“This was an invitation to hear from people about education and this communication is confidential. It’s just like if you wrote me a letter, I wouldn’t disclose that letter,” Youngkin said about the email address in an interview with 8News’ Jackie DeFusco. “It makes me a better governor because it gives me a chance to listen.”
News outlets that filed similar FOIA requests reported getting the same response as News Channel 11’s sister station, 8News, and Sawyer. This led 13 media organizations — The Associated Press, Axios Media, Cable News Network and more — to file a similar lawsuit in Richmond Circuit Court claiming that Youngkin’s office has violated the Virginia Freedom of Information Act because the working papers exemption does not apply to the emails being requested.