Questions remain over Youngkin’s new tip line for ‘divisive’ practices in Virginia schools

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Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s new email tipline, created so parents can report “divisive” teaching practices in schools to his administration, made national waves this week, with a mix of celebrities, activists, Democratic politicians and teacher associations speaking against it. But amid the uproar, many questions remain about what it actually does.

Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter on Friday declined for a second time to answer questions from The Virginian-Pilot — such as who monitors the account, what steps are taken after reports are received and whether the governor’s administration plans to contact schools or educators mentioned in complaints.

During a Wednesday appearance on Fox News, Attorney General Jason Miyares called the tipline a tool for parental empowerment. But he also dodged a specific question.

“Who will go through that tipline and look into matters that might be serious?” asked host Sean Hannity.

“All this is saying is parents have a right if they find out there’s something that’s really concerning them — and we’re seeing school board after school board in Loudoun and all over that candidly are just ignoring parents’ voices, they’re not allowing them to speak and, in some cases, parents are getting arrested — we’re saying, ‘Listen, we believe in accountability and transparency in government,’” Miyares replied.

The tipline was first referenced in a Jan. 21 news release about the governor’s executive order aiming to allow parents to opt children out of school mask mandates. Youngkin later mentioned it during a radio talk show appearance while discussing his opposition to critical race theory and urged parents to report any instances of “inherently divisive” teaching methods in their schools. The governor said the tips would help the administration root out such practices.

His comments quickly went viral, with singer John Legend urging his 13.8 million Twitter followers to protest the policy.

“Black parents need to flood these tip lines with complaints about our history being silenced. We are parents too,” he tweeted.

Legend’s post was retweeted by state Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, chair of the Senate Education and Health Committee.

James J. Fedderman, president of the Virginia Education Association, said in a news release it appeared the governor was attempting to pit parents and educators against one another for his own political gain.

The VEA is a union of more than 40,000 teachers and school support professionals.

“It seems it is easier for politicians to start a divisive culture war than deal head-on with the real problems facing our schools,” he wrote.

Fedderman urged educators not to be intimidated.

But Aneesa Etheridge, an English teacher at Syms Middle School in Hampton, said it’s hard not to feel a little unnerved.

“It kind of scares me a little bit just because I’m not sure what to expect,” she said. “Are we going to be monitored more frequently if we get reported?”

Etheridge said she wonders if teaching about Black History Month in February will be seen by some as divisive.

Sonja Lassiter, a special education teacher at Willoughby Early Childhood Center in Norfolk, said the tipline comes at an especially poor time. Teachers already are dealing with staff shortages, as well as risks and challenges of a pandemic, she explained.

Lassiter added that it appears the governor doesn’t want parents to build positive relationships with teachers or school districts.

“If anyone felt that their child’s rights were being violated, in any shape or form, there are ways you go about addressing that, and the first thing is not to run to the governor’s office,” she said.

Mary Bauer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, said government censorship of the classroom does a disservice to all students and teachers.

“The idea that kids have a right to be educated without ever feeling uncomfortable is profoundly at odds with the purpose of education. Learning our true history is sometimes uncomfortable,” she wrote in an email.

Others say the tipline has their full support.

Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, hopes it is just the start of a push to empower parents.

“I think it’s great,” said Laura Hughes, a member of the Virginia Beach School Board.

Hughes said parents often tell her teachers are injecting their political views into lessons. But if superintendents or school boards agree with those views, she said, there’s no recourse for the families.

At the start of the school year, Hughes heard some middle school teachers throughout Chesapeake and Virginia Beach had asked students what pronouns they prefer and offered to keep the information from their parents. Hughes said other parents have reported teachers treat their children differently because they are unmasked.

“Never come between a child and a parent, ever,” Hughes said. “Wherever you fall (on the issues), you need to defer to the parents.”

Katie King,