A letter published last Friday on behalf of Virginia’s school superintendents to Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow represents a majority of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS) board, not the feelings of all 133 superintendents, VASS President Dr. Zebedee Talley Jr. told John Reid on WRVA on Wednesday. The letter criticized the Youngkin administration’s removal of equity material, and Democrats and initial media reports suggested that the letter represented unanimous support from the superintendents. That led to a week of outcry from Virginia Republicans and conservative media.
“I think people have taken this and just gone way off course,” Talley told Reid.
“It simply expresses some concerns, and it is not all 133 superintendents who feel this way. If you get 10 people in the room, you know, two people don’t agree on everything,” Talley said.
Last week, a spokesperson told The Virginia Star that eight regional chairs, who together represent all Virginia superintendents, crafted the letter.
“[The letter] does represent the majority of our board,” Talley told Reid.
As soon as the letter was published, conservative figures like Loudoun-area education activist Ian Prior began questioning the claim that all 133 superintendents agreed with the letter.
“This letter is a gross misrepresentation of what superintendents believe, I believe,” Governor Glenn Youngkin told 7News on Monday.
The Washington Post and other media clarified their earlier stories.
“In the days since, Youngkin and his allies have alleged that many educators do not agree with the missive and have criticized press coverage of the controversy, including in The Washington Post,” a Wednesday article in The Post states.
The Post also reported that only 20 out of 133 superintendents responded to requests for comment: “Only one superintendent, Robbie Mason of Charlotte County Public Schools, expressed discontent with the letter, saying: ‘I agree with some aspects of the letter, like the need for better communication. Other parts I do not agree with.'”
Throughout the week, conservative media has continued to hammer the early portrayals of the letter.
On Monday, Kerry Dougherty published a blog post titled “Lazy Mainstream Media Lied to Virginia.” On Tuesday, James Bacon at Bacon’s Rebellion highlighted the story and the senior role at VASS held by Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Brabrand, who is disliked by conservatives for his role in equity initiatives.
“Any honest reporting of the letter would have provided this political context,” Bacon wrote. “But that would require The Washington Post and other mainstream media outlets to be interested in engaging in honest reporting as opposed to pushing fact-deprived partisan narratives.”
“WaPo issues ‘clarification’ after suggesting ‘all 133 Virginia school superintendents’ denounce Youngkin plan,” Fox News reported Wednesday. “The paper hyped a letter sent ‘on behalf’ of every superintendent, though some were unaware it was even written.”
Since the day the letter was first published, House of Delegates Republican spokesperson Garren Shipley has repeatedly criticized media portrayals of the letter on social media and in multiple press releases.
In a Thursday press release, Shipley highlighted Talley’s conversation with Reid.
Shipley wrote, “We’ve said it before: When a story is too good to check, it’s usually not true.”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Jillian Balow” by Wyoming Public Media.