RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Glenn Youngkin is being sued by a group of media organizations 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.
Youngkin’s office cited an exemption from the state’s public-records law in response to 8News’ Freedom of Information Act request seeking the messages sent to the email address.
The records were withheld because they are considered “working papers and correspondence of the Office of the Governor,” Youngkin’s office wrote in an email.
Other news outlets that filed similar FOIA requests reported getting the same response, leading 13 media organizations to file a lawsuit in Richmond Circuit Court on Wednesday claiming that Youngkin’s office has violated the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. The lawsuit argues the working papers exemption does not apply to the emails being requested.
“FOIA is clear that under the Working Papers Exemption ‘no information that is otherwise open to inspection under this chapter,’ such as e-mails, ‘shall be deemed excluded by virtue of the fact that it has been attached to or incorporated with any working paper or correspondence,” the lawsuit asserts.
The coalition wants the court to order the Youngkin administration to give access to the records and to pay any costs they incurred, including attorney fees, according to the lawsuit.
“When a constituent writes to the Governor he treats that communication as confidential and would not share the contents with the public,” Macaulay Porter, Youngkin’s spokesperson, said in a statement. “There is an expectation of privacy that he takes very seriously.”
The group of organizations suing Youngkin includes: The Associated Press, Axios Media, Cable News Network, The Daily Dot, Gannett Satellite Information Network, Gray Media Group, National Public Radio, NBCUniversal Media, Tegna, Tribune Publishing Company, Scripps Media, Sinclair Broadcast Group, and WP Company.
The lawsuit adds that FOIA law states that records that have not gone under “substantive analysis or revision” are not considered working papers and should not be exempt from requests. The suit claims that Youngkin and his staff don’t analyze or revise the emails when they are first received.
The media outlets also claim in their suit that the emails have been shared with people outside of the governor’s office, “including but not limited to individuals affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute.” The institute is a conservative-leaning public policy think tank with ties to the Youngkin administration, including Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera.
Youngkin, who campaigned on giving Virginia parents more authority in school decisions, 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 in February.
“It makes me a better governor because it gives me a chance to listen.”
This story is developing. Check back for updates.