VPM News v. Virginia Department of Education
Case Number: CL23000536-00
Court: Circuit Court for the City of Richmond
Clients: VPM News and Ben Paviour
Petition Filed: Jan. 30, 2023
Background: In September 2022, the Virginia Department of Education adopted a new set of policies concerning transgender students and directed local school boards to follow them. VPM News reporter Ben Paviour filed a request under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act seeking all drafts of the transgender policies, as well as emails related to the drafts.
In response, state education officials said they identified 90 responsive records, 87 of which they decided to withhold in full, including talking points regarding the policies shared in emails between advisors. Officials said they were withholding the 315 pages of records because they claimed they were protected from disclosure under a provision of the public records law that shields “working paper[s] and correspondence of the Office of the Governor.”
On behalf of Paviour and VPM News, Reporters Committee attorneys filed a lawsuit against the Department of Education for failing to produce the requested records in violation of Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act. The lawsuit argues that the records are not exempt from disclosure under the exemption in the public records law for working papers and correspondence of the governor’s office.
Among other things, the lawsuit asks the Circuit Court for the City of Richmond to order the Department of Education to release the 87 withheld records or demonstrate that the Freedom of Information Act exemption they asserted would justify keeping the records secret.
Related: In April 2022, Reporters Committee attorneys filed a similar lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Education on behalf of Paviour and VPM News. That lawsuit challenged the Department of Education’s failure to disclose a record related to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order banning Critical Race Theory in public schools. Days later, education officials turned over the requested document.
Update: On March 9, 2023, the Circuit Court for the City of Richmond ruled in favor of the Virginia Department of Education, finding that the records at issue were properly withheld.
2023-01-30: Petition for writ of mandamus
2023-01-30: Brief in support of petition for writ of mandamus
2023-01-30: Paviour affidavit
2023-01-30: Exhibit A
2023-01-30: Exhibit B
2023-01-30: Exhibit C
2023-01-30: Exhibit D