Mar 23, 2023 - Politics

Youngkin's new school appointee draws fire

Illustration of a pattern of apples and stacks of textbooks.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s latest appointee to the state Board of Education is drawing criticism from Democrats for his past statements opposing the separation of church and state.

What’s happening: Youngkin announced Wednesday he appointed Dale Sturdifen, a retired state trooper and former Mecklenburg school board chair, to fill the seat left vacant when Democrats blocked a previous appointee.

Within an hour, VPM reporter Ben Paviour surfaced social media posts by Sturdifen opposing transgender rights in schools and praising a Virginia city’s decision to put “In God We Trust” decals on all city vehicles.

  • “Maybe the state of Virginia should do the same on all state vehicles,” Sturdifen wrote in the 2021 post. “There is no separation between God and State or God and Nation.”

What they’re saying: “This follows a pattern of appointing people who don't support the laws or constitutional rules they are charged with implementing,” said Sen. Scott Surovell, one of several Democrats to express concern about Sturdifen's appointment Wednesday.

The other side: "In the world we live in, people have a right to share and make opinions and thoughts about what they see," Sturdifen told Axios. "So I have no comment on those posts. My goal is to do the best job that I can while serving on the Board of Education.”

  • Youngkin's press secretary Macaulay Porter said the governor is grateful for Sturdifen's willingness to serve.

Youngkin also appointed a new superintendent of public instruction Wednesday — Tennessee chief academic officer Lisa Coons — to replace Jillian Balow, who resigned after a series of missteps at the state Department of Education.

  • While Youngkin has not said whether he asked Balow to resign, documents obtained by the Times-Dispatch show his administration agreed to pay her $266,213 in severance — the equivalent of a full year’s salary.

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