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A 'tip line' championed by Virginia Gov. Youngkin last year has been quietly shut down

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Going to follow up on an issue from a key race in last year's election. We learned this week that Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin's tip line for parents to, as he put it, report inherently divisive practices in schools, was quietly shut down in September. The email address sparked an immediate backlash when it was first announced after the Republican took office in January. Ben Paviour joins us now from member station VPM in Richmond. Ben, thanks for being with us.

BEN PAVIOUR, BYLINE: Good to be here.

SIMON: And remind us - why did the governor say it was necessary to set up this line in the first place?

PAVIOUR: Well, Youngkin ran for office last year on the notion that public education system was just too liberal - that kids were being, in his words, indoctrinated into concepts like critical race theory. He didn't provide much proof for that. But within the first couple weeks of his inauguration, the governor announced this email address on conservative talk shows. And he pitched it as a way for parents to reach his office directly.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GLENN YOUNGKIN: For parents to send us 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.

SIMON: And what kind of public reaction was there?

PAVIOUR: Some of his supporters were obviously very excited about this, but there was also enormous pushback from people who found the whole thing kind of Orwellian. Some people tried to undermine the tip line, or as they called it, snitch line by sending emails praising teachers or criticizing Youngkin. The governor argued this was private communication between citizens and his office, and he blocked public records request to see the submissions. NPR and other media outlets sued, and eventually the administration handed over 350 emails as part of a settlement. And they were a real grab bag. Many came from a special education advocate who argued the state had failed those students. Some related to local mask mandates in schools. There was some praise for teachers, too. One notable one came from a high school student who didn't like the way their English teacher was discussing the epic poem "Beowulf." The student wrote - I'm quoting here - "All my teacher wants to talk about is how the book is sexist because it portrays the warriors as men and not women."

SIMON: Ben, why was the tip line shut down, do you know?

PAVIOUR: A spokesperson for Youngkin said they shut it down in September because it was receiving, quote, "little or no volume of responses." Don Scott, the top lawmaker in Virginia's House of Delegates, said the whole thing was designed to provoke the kind of divisiveness that Youngkin claimed he's trying to prevent.

DON SCOTT: It's just, you know, ironic to me that the people who say they're for small government now want Big Brother in the classroom, now want Big Brother on tip lines.

PAVIOUR: Youngkin's mostly moved on to other topics. His administration has proposed new rules on transgender students that would require parental consent before a child can adopt new pronouns at school. And the State Board of Education is revamping the history standards the state uses for standardized tests. Democrats like Don Scott argue this is all geared to build up Youngkin's national profile within the Republican Party. Youngkin's been raising lots of money and has been a coveted speaker for GOP candidates like Kari Lake in Arizona and Lee Zeldin in New York. And that's all fueled speculation that he's gunning for the White House.

SIMON: Ben Paviour, member station VPM in Richmond. Thanks so much for being with us.

PAVIOUR: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Ben Paviour