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'Lines have been crossed' | CMS school board candidate accuses incumbent of overstepping at polling location

This interaction is a part of a long contention between two District 4 candidates vying for a school board seat.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — One Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board race continues to face conflict after a day at the polls.

Stephanie Sneed, who is running to unseat incumbent board member Carol Sawyer, accused Sawyer of making her son cry. 

"Yesterday, when I asked my 9-year-old son how it was being at the polling location, he told me that amongst other actions (which will be addressed separately), Carol Sawyer said directly to him that he is “annoying and/or being annoying and to go somewhere else," Sneed said on her campaign Facebook page. 

I have been thinking about this all night and I cannot remain silent. As a mother I can’t. A line has been crossed. ...

Posted by Stephanie Sneed for School Board on Monday, October 31, 2022

Sneed says she called Sawyer immediately to confront her. 

"She admitted that she said that to my son because he was singing. My son is 9 and will not be a victim of tone policing," Sneed said. "Lines have been crossed." 

Sneed admonished Saywer for speaking to her son at the polls. 

"To be clear, if there is a problem with my son, an adult needs to speak directly to me or my husband but he is not to be addressed under any circumstances as any parent would expect," Sawyer said.

Sawyer responded to the claims the next day with an apology to Sneed and her son. 

"Yesterday I worked the polls with Stephanie Sneed's husband and son. I had cordial conversations with her son about Halloween costumes, etc," Sawyer said on her campaign page. "Her son was hanging out near me and singing. I told him he had a nice singing voice, but I thought the song was annoying." 

Yesterday I worked the polls with Stephanie Sneed's husband and son. I had cordial conversations with her son about...

Posted by Carol Sawyer, CMS Board of Education - District 4 on Monday, October 31, 2022

She offered to apologize in person. 

"I realize that this was a poor choice of words on my part and I sincerely apologize for hurting her son's feelings as well as any pain that my words caused her and her husband," Sawyer said. "I have reached out to Stephanie's mom-to-mom to offer my apology to her and have offered to apologize to her son with her present if she felt it appropriate." 

This interaction is a part of a long contention between Sawyer and Sneed. 

WCNC Charlotte spoke to both candidates weeks before this incident about their race for school board for District 4. Neither directly criticized the other. 

RELATED: CMS school board candidates: District 4

Sawyer and Sneed first faced off in 2017 with Sawyer winning that round. 

Sawyer says she still has a place on the dais. 

“I feel like we are at a point where we're ready to make some real gains and I want to help with that," Sawyer said. 

Her voting record on virtual learning and continued masking in schools has triggered attacks, more so than other incumbents, in her race for re-election. 

This is despite her record being nearly identical to all but two of her colleagues. 

“Radical right. Radical right groups have targeted my race," Sawyer said. 

Sawyer says she knows why. 

“It's not glamorous work. It's not showy we work," Sawyer said. "But I think that's what has made me a target for the far right because I'm effective in standing up for the values of our community and standing up for the students of our community.”

A billboard criticizing Sawyer on virtual learning sits along the highway in East Charlotte on Independence Boulevard 

The group that paid for it, Success4CMS, endorsed her opponent, Stephanie Sneed. The group has endorsed both registered Republicans and Democrats in the race but does not have a public list of members. 

"I have been asked by parents, community members, corporate leaders, to engage in his race at this time because the timing is right," Sneed said. 

Sneed is the most recent chair of the Black Political Caucus in Charlotte. The group along with others opposed a precinct change made after redistricting. 

During redistricting, which Sawyer helped lead, Sneed’s precinct was moved out of District Four. 

It drew criticism and led to a rare reversal of the precinct being moved back. 

“There was no racial or political intent," Sawyer said during the motion to reverse the decision. "The adopted electoral map was a subject of two public hearings, a board workshop, and a community forum hosted by the Black Political Caucus." 

At-large board member Jennifer De La Jara spoke to the motion cautioning against setting a precedent for making changes to redistricting decisions after the fact. 

Sneed says it’s time for a change. 

"We all care about students," Sneed said. "The question is, who's going to be the best person at this time to be a leader? Right."

There’s also an organized effort to oust Sawyer, a Democrat, backed by the Mecklenburg County chapter of the conservative group Moms for Liberty. 

“I take their attacks as a badge of honor," Sawyer said. "I have been the most effective board member and effective voice for equity in our community.”

The group is more against Sawyer than for Sneed. 

"I don't have an association with Moms for Liberty," Sneed said. "They haven't told me that they're endorsing me."

The group's chair, Brook Weiss, says they haven't. 

"There's a lot of people that are anti-Trump, and they would vote for anybody except him," Weiss said. "That's the way I feel about Mrs. Sawyer, you know, I'm gonna encourage people to not vote for her.” 

Nationwide, Moms for Liberty is helping conservative politicians reshape the makeup of school boards. Since its creation, its made national waves against extended masking in schools, virtual learning, curriculum changes, rallied against so-called critical race theory in schools and encouraged the banning of certain books in schools. 

Although Weiss has said she doesn't support banning books, but instead would like to see a rating system. 

RELATED: The books in your kid's school could be decided in the next election

The race also has a newcomer hoping to make waves, former CMS teacher Clara Kennedy Witherspoon. Witherspoon is staying clear of the political storm of the race. 

MORE COVERAGE: Meet all the candidates running for CMS school board

She says the district is in bad shape with the current leadership. 

"We already know what the prior board, the current board has done, and that they have failed brown and Black children. Simple as that," Witherspoon said. 

Witherspoon is presenting herself as the better option than Sawyer and Sneed on the issues and coming into the race without community controversy. 

Contact Shamarria Morrison at smorrison@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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