Governor Glenn Youngkin campaigned on a platform of involving parents in public educationsigning a Executive Decree to stamp out “dividing concepts” in the school curriculum that he describes as troubling Virginia families.
But over the past week, the governor’s office and the Virginia Department of Education have denied or delayed public records requests related to Youngkin’s executive actions involving education. Thursday, the Virginian-Pilot reported that the governor’s office was refusing to release emails sent to an inbox that Youngkin described as a tip line to report troubling behavior by school officials, including “diversifying” topics in the room of class.
The administration has denied requests from several media organizations under Virginia’s release of working documents, an expansive section of code that excludes the “working papers and correspondence” of the governor, cabinet members, state officials and several other elected and appointed officials from the US Freedom of Information Act. ‘State. The measure has long been a thorn in the side of defenders of open cases.
“Every governor has abused the working papers exemption,” said Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government and occasional Mercury contributor. Former Democratic Governor Ralph Northam cited the section of the code for protect your daily calendar amid a key permit vote on Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline. His predecessor, former Governor Terry McAuliffe, claimed that the code section protected the list of criminals included in his order of reinstatement of rights – some of whom regained their political rights despite not serving their sentences.
More unusual — and disturbing, Rhyne said — were the Virginia Department of Education’s FOIA denials. A reporter for public radio station VPM News submitted a request for documents to the agency last month regarding Youngkin’s executive orders. The answer included an email thread on January 18 between staffers in the governor’s office and VDOE leadership — including Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow — with an “evasion of instructions” over governor’s executive orders.
The agency, however, withheld the attached document, citing the code section relating to governor’s working papers. Rhyne said that was probably not a correct interpretation of the law.
They also claim that instructions sent to Department of Education officials on how to implement its executive order on “dividing content” count as “working papers.” https://t.co/KQBPjeXwzr pic.twitter.com/W9gb3I7B2p
— Ben Paviour (@BPaves) February 2, 2022
“Another agency, or another person, cannot claim the working papers exemption for someone else,” Rhyne said. “Now there is a cabinet post for the education secretary, and that person could apply for the exemption. They could try to claim their own working papers exemption, they just can’t claim the governor’s.
The agency also did not respond to a request for the Mercury recordings submitted early last week. A reporter asked for any communication between the governor’s office and VDOE staff regarding Youngkin’s executive order on inherently conflicting concepts sent between Jan. 15 and Jan. 25.
Rebecca Askew, a FOIA agent for the department, initially said the only documents responding to the request were several dozen copies of the same press release sent by the governor on the day of his inauguration. When the Mercury reporter saw the Jan. 18 exchange communicated to VPM, she asked why it hadn’t been considered responsive to her request, asking for the thread and any other communication excluded from the initial response. of the department.
A new FOIA officer, Rebecca Westfall, responded Thursday that she was working with the agency’s data department to respond to the investigation, “as well as to identify any other potentially responsive records.”
“In order to conduct adequate research on this issue,” Westfall wrote, the department would need an additional seven working days.