Orwellian snitch line shuts down. Will guv end assault on teachers?

November 10, 2022 12:02 am

(Photo by Matt Cardy / Getty Images)

It was so punitive. So unnecessary.  

And so past time for Gov. Glenn Youngkin to shut down his teacher snitch line. His spokeswoman, Macaulay Porter, confirmed to me the euphemistically named “help education email” was deactivated in September, eight months after Youngkin announced its start.  

The acknowledgment finally came after Axios reported last week that emails it sent to the tip line address bounced back as undeliverable. 

Porter, as she does repeatedly, wouldn’t answer my specific questions.  

I wanted to know the number of emails the administration had received overall, how effective the comments were in providing guidance and why she hadn’t responded to my request Oct. 19 about whether the email address still worked.  

I’d asked because the administration has lowered the bar for teacher licensure to ease a shortage in K-12 public schools. I wrote last month the snitch line, however, evoked the worst tactics in communist countries, whereby neighbors spied on neighbors. 

Ending the unseemly practice could help fill vacancies, after all. Teacher shortages have been the norm nationwide, especially during the pandemic.  

It’s stupefying, though, to penalize educators by having them face undue scrutiny on the one hand and then begging them to flock to Virginia on the other – at the urging of the chief executive, no less. 

Talk about chutzpah. 

Youngkin had proudly announced the reporting mechanism in January just days after he was inaugurated. The email address was “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,” he said in a radio interview.  

Nor was this teacher-targeted denunciation the guv’s lone attack on the profession.  

Youngkin won the governor’s contest last year by playing up parental rights and demonizing critical race theory – even though the latter isn’t taught in K-12 public schools. So naturally, he signed an executive order on his first day in office “to end the use of inherently divisive concepts,” including CRT.  

(Note to Youngkin and other conservatives: Please stop cherry-picking Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s oratory, as the guv did in the order. Your actions contradict King’s work and activism – for which he was assassinated.) 

It’s easy to halt something that’s not happening, while still throwing red meat to your base. The executive order had the effect of preventing a fuller telling of U.S. history with all its warts, violence and white supremacy – even though Youngkin claimed otherwise.  

James Fedderman, president of the Virginia Education Association, told me the snitch line was “just another tactic in the ongoing attempt to be divisive.” The major goal, he added, should be for the administration to work with the community and parents. 

Fedderman said the governor’s true motivation has been “to get parents to think the only way to address these issues is with charter schools and lab schools, and it’s not.” 

It’s telling the administration has refused to release the total number of missives it received by email, as well as characterize the overall tenor. That suggests many of the comments were benign or even laudatory of educators in the commonwealth. 

Back in January, people like entertainer John Legend, the Loudoun County NAACP and others asked Black parents to email their concerns and flood the snitch line with useless info. “Saturday Night Live” spoofed it. Groups representing educators asked Youngkin to immediately shut down the line. 

The administration initially refused to release emails to the line under the Freedom of Information Act, saying the submissions were covered by exemptions for a governor’s working papers and correspondence. News outlets sued in April. Both sides agreed to a settlement in which 350 emails were released recently.  

Virginia report shows more teachers leaving the workforce than entering it

Many of the comments were duplicates. One high school senior complained about the way a teacher focused on “Beowulf.” One woman praised physical education teachers around the commonwealth. A parent criticized a reading assignment “sympathetic” to immigrants. 

Oh, the horror. Let’s not make immigrants seem human. 

This week, the Virginia Mercury noted the state has more teachers leaving the workforce than newly licensed teachers entering it. The Mercury cited a report from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission.   

The administration’s snitch line couldn’t have helped that situation. 

You wonder why Youngkin really started this Orwellian device against teachers. Was it a sop to his disciples? Was it to establish conservative bona fides as he sets himself up for national office?  

 Jettisoning the snitch line was overdue. But the issue sent an ominous message to educators around Virginia: 

 You’re under the microscope. And this guv won’t hesitate using you as political pawns. 


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Roger Chesley
Roger Chesley

Longtime columnist and editorial writer Roger Chesley worked at the (Newport News) Daily Press and The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot from 1997 through 2018. He previously worked at newspapers in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Detroit. Reach him at [email protected]