PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. (WJLA) — The latest controversy involving education in Virginia involves a new email tip line that Gov. Glenn Youngkin created for people to report "divisive practices" in schools.
The governor first referenced the email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, in a Jan. 21 news release that focused on his executive order about mask-wearing in schools.
“I have said all along that we are going to stand up for parents. Executive Order 2 is not about pro-masks versus anti-mask, it’s about empowering parents. I am confident that the Virginia Supreme Court will rule in the favor of parents, reaffirming the parental rights clearly laid out in the Virginia code 1-240.1. In the meantime, I urge all parents to listen to their principal and trust the legal process. If you have any questions or concerns please contact us at email@example.com,” Youngkin said on Jan. 21.
Then this week, he mentioned the email tip line again in an interview with conservative radio host John Fredericks.
"Helpeducation@governor.virginia.gov, 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. And we're asking for input right from parents, to make sure that we can go right to the source, as we continue to work to make sure Virginia's education system is on the path to re-establish excellence," Youngkin said.
Not long after that statement, the backlash began on social media.
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Even singer John Legend weighed in, tweeting to his nearly 14 million followers that "Black parents need to flood these tip lines with complaints about our history being silenced."
7News spoke to Oveta Scott, a Prince William County middle school teacher who has spent more than a decade in the classroom.
"We are human beings too. We are going through it too," she said, when asked about her reaction to the governor's new email tip line. 'Why are you vilifying us and attacking us? What are we doing? We're trying to stay afloat. We have a shortage of substitutes. We have a shortage of bus drivers. Every day, I have to look for an email to see if I'm covering someone's class. Every day."
The president of the Virginia Education Association called the tip line a "divisive distraction".
"This poorly conceived hotline, tip line, it's simply in place to intimidate educators, from simply trying to do their jobs," said VEA President Dr. James Fedderman. "And instead of feeling threatened by this blatantly political tactic, we encourage educators and parents to report to Governor Youngkin the great and amazing things that are going on in Virginia's classrooms on a daily basis."
Fedderman acknowledged there are also concerns that the governor's tip line could exacerbate teacher shortages that already exist in many Virginia school districts.
"For the lack of respect many of our educators are experiencing, they're not going to stay in the profession," he said.
That's something Scott says she's spent a lot of time thinking about over the past few months.
"I'm looking at some options myself," she said. "I love teaching. I have a master's degree. I thought I would retire doing this profession that I love. I love my kids. But this year, honestly, has been one of the worst years ever in my teaching career, because we are getting hit from every direction."
WJLA reached out to Youngkin's office to ask about his response to some of the criticism and concerns over the new email tip line.
A spokesperson for the governor sent the following statement:
The governor’s office set up firstname.lastname@example.org as a resource for parents, teachers, and students to relay any questions or concerns. Governor Youngkin was elected to serve all Virginians and has utilized a customary constituent service, to hear from Virginians and solicit feedback.
7News also asked how many emails have come into the tip line so far, but the governor's office has not yet answered that question.
"We're going to make sure that we catalog it all," Youngkin said during his radio interview with John Fredericks. "It gives us a great insight into what's happening at the school level. And that gives us further, further ability to make sure that we're rooting it out."