A diversity, equity, and inclusion officer at a leading university in southwestern Virginia may have violated her school’s policy by using work email to forward a message slamming conservative school board candidates as “hateful” and urging readers to canvass for the candidates’ opponents shortly before early voting begins.
One school board member targeted in the forwarded email told The Daily Signal that she is considering a lawsuit.
“Anti-Hate Canvassing this Saturday and Sunday,” reads the subject line of the email forwarded by Catherine Cotrupi, interim assistant dean and director for the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Strategic Partnerships at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University—better known as Virginia Tech. Neither Cotrupi nor Virginia Tech responded to a request to confirm or deny the email’s authenticity.
“Sharing in case you’re interested,” Cotrupi wrote in forwarding the email.
The original email—from an unknown author—warns readers that school board elections in Montgomery County, Virginia, have “been hijacked by a lot of the same anti-trans, anti-‘woke’ rhetoric that we saw in the last gubernatorial race and the upcoming presidential race.”
“It would be great if we could get some young energy to advocate for Penny Franklin and Derek Rountree on online platforms I’m too old to know about or use,” the original sender writes. “It would be even better if y’all could come out and help us canvass on Saturday. I know y’all know how to organize and this would be a great way to put the rubber to the road to protect trans kids, not to mention the teaching of comprehensive history and literature.”
The email forwarded by Virginia Tech’s diversity officer goes on to target two school board candidates running “hateful campaigns”: Mark Miear in District B and Lindsay Rich in District E. It urges readers to support those candidates’ opponents, Penny Franklin and Derek Rountree, respectively. Miear previously served as the school district’s superintendent.
The email praises Franklin, saying she “has come out swinging against anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric, comparing it to the racism she experienced growing up in the era of school integration resistance.” It praises Rountree for opposing “the hateful proposals being set forth by the Moms for Liberty crowd.”
The email accuses Rich’s supporters of attacking the sexuality of her opponent’s supporters and of “doxxing her opponent’s supporters as aggressively as he can, including but not limited to outing the CHILD of a sitting board member (who is not running in this cycle) as trans.”
“Go forth and spread the good word for these two candidates!” the email continues.
Early voting in Virginia’s Montgomery County begins Friday, Sept. 22, one week after Cotrupi forwarded the email.
Virginia Tech declined to comment on Cotrupi’s action, but the school pointed to its policies, which bar use of university systems to advertise for political candidates.
“I cannot comment on specific personnel matters,” Mark Owczarski, associate vice president of communications and marketing at Virginia Tech, told The Daily Signal in an email statement Monday. “I can direct you to our university policies website (www.policies.vt.edu), specifically Policy 7000 (Acceptable Use and Administration of Computer and Communication Systems).”
Policy 7000 references a document titled “Standard for Acceptable Use of Information Systems at Virginia Tech.” That document forbids certain uses of university systems, including “for commercial or partisan political purposes, such as using electronic mail to circulate advertising for products or for political candidates.”
Cotrupi did not respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment by publication time.
Candidate Considers Legal Action
Rich, the District E candidate, told The Daily Signal that she is considering legal action against Cotrupi.
Cotrupi “used state-funded resources in her opposition to my campaign,” Rich said. “Not only is this against Virginia Tech’s policies, but also it is illegal.”
“If Virginia Tech or the state of Virginia does not hold her accountable, I will be exploring my options,” the school board candidate added. “I have no true desire to put forward any legal action. but am willing to do so if necessary.”
Although she said she doesn’t “enjoy seeing anyone suffer,” she added that Cotrupi must be “held accountable” to ensure “the integrity of future elections.”
The school board candidate slammed Cotrupi as “hypocritical,” saying that the Virginia Tech official “only supports diversity as long as it agrees with her point of view.”
“Using state-funded resources to support one campaign while denying its use to the other is not equity,” Rich added. “She is spreading hate through an email with ‘Anti-Hate’ in the subject line.”
Rich and Miear support the Virginia Department of Education’s “Model Policies on Ensuring Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students,” developed under Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican. These policies require parental involvement for any school encouragement of a transgender identity and designate bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams according to biological sex, rather than claimed gender identity.
Montgomery County’s school board previously adopted pro-transgender standards developed under Youngkin’s Democratic predecessor, Gov. Ralph Northam.
“My opposition seeks to define my support of Gov. Youngkin’s education policies as hate simply to fire up their progressive base against me,” Rich argued. “The fact is, Gov. Youngkin’s policies are not hateful and neither is my support for them.”
“As a mother of five children, my heart is for the children, ALL the children,” the candidate added in a written statement.
Youngkin’s policies “accommodate both the majority and the minority, not at the expense of each other,” she argued. “As a parent, I am an advocate for parental rights. I know that parents, through love for their children, are the best ones to make decisions regarding their individual children.”
Former Superintendent Responds
Miear, the former superintendent running for school board in District B, told The Daily Signal that it seems that Cotrupi violated Virginia Tech’s email policy by forwarding the message.
“To refer to Lindsay and my campaign as promoting hate is simply ridiculous,” he said in a written statement Monday. “I was a public educator for 30 years. I’m running because of my love for kids and my desire for them to be taught.”
Miear voiced his support for Youngkin’s policy.
“I do not believe biological boys should be allowed to participate in sports with biological girls nor should they be allowed in locker rooms meant for girls,” he said. “I also believe that all parents/legal guardians should approve any accommodation provided to a transgender student by a school.”
“This isn’t hate, it’s common sense,” Miear added.
Miear served as superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools for six years before the school board voted to dismiss him in March 2022. Earlier that year, his ex-wife told him that his daughter identified as transgender.
He reluctantly agreed to allow his daughter to use male pronouns at school, after Susan Kass, then the school board chair, suggested that it “wouldn’t look good” for the superintendent’s job if he refused.
Miear didn’t agree to let his daughter change her name at school, however, and he told The Daily Signal that the school board sided with his ex-wife against his wishes on the matter.
“Usually, when two parents with equal custody have disputes, the status quo prevails until they come to an agreement or a judge intervenes,” he said in a phone interview Monday. “They chose to go against my wishes as to the name of my child.”
Following his angry altercation with the deputy superintendent on March 10, 2022, the school board voted to fire Miear as superintendent.
“I lost my temper with the deputy superintendent at the time,” Miear told The Daily Signal, noting that he publicly apologized for the altercation in January, when he announced his run for school board. “My belief is, I was acting as an angry parent, not a superintendent,” he said, maintaining that the school board fired him “for political reasons.”
He described the school board as weighted 5-2 in favor of liberals, but he said he is running in a conservative district.
“I think we have a really good chance to win,” he said, pledging that the school board will adopt Youngkin’s model policies if he and Rich prevail.
The campaigns of Franklin and Rountree didn’t respond to The Daily Signal’s requests for comment by publication time.
Moms for Liberty Response
It remains unclear exactly what the email forwarded by Cotrupi meant by referencing “the hateful proposals being set forth by the Moms for Liberty crowd.” However, the email suggests connections between opposition to the transgender movement and racism, and a far-left organization has drawn those connections in attacking Moms for Liberty.
Earlier this year, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is notorious for branding mainstream conservative and Christian organizations as “hate groups” and putting them on a map with the Ku Klux Klan, added Moms for Liberty to this “hate map.”
The SPLC also compared the parental rights movement to the “uptown Klans” of white southerners supporting racial segregation after the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education struck down segregation in public schools.
Ginny Perfater, chair of Montgomery County Moms for Liberty, responded to these accusations Monday in a written statement to The Daily Signal.
“Moms for Liberty is not a hate group, and any attempt to paint us as such is just propaganda with the purpose of silencing concerned parents,” Perfater said. “Moms for Liberty is dedicated to fighting for the survival of America by unifying, educating and empowering parents to defend their parental rights at all levels of government.”
“This narrative from the DEI crowd that ‘everyone’ is welcome is just the opposite,” she added. “You’re only welcome if you align your thoughts and beliefs with theirs. I was a teacher for nine years. I experienced it. I left teaching and joined Moms for Liberty because it is mission critical to the saving of our nation to stand up and speak up for our children and their future now, before it is too late.”
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