GOP sought Norrell school records

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By Chris Sardelli

School choice is an issue in the hotly contested race between Mick Mulvaney and Mandy Powers Norrell for the state Senate District 16 seat.

Both candidates have discussed the issue of school choice, with Republican candidate Mulvaney, who is also the incumbent state District 45 House representative, favoring ideas such as charter schools and school vouchers, and Democrat Norrell strongly opposing a statewide voucher system.

The S.C. Republican Party has also taken an interest in the issue in the Mulvaney/Norrell race.

Using the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, the state GOP requested school records pertaining to Norrell's child on Sept. 10.

The request, initiated by state Party Executive Director Jay W. Ragley, asked for all records associated with an out-of-area school transfer Norrell made for her son.

The transfer, which occurred a few years ago, moved her son from Clinton Elementary School to North Elementary School, a school outside of her attendance area.

The Lancaster County School District, in a letter dated Sept. 18, denied the Republican Party's request, saying the district is prohibited from releasing personal information and records regarding students.

Rob Godfrey, communications director for the S.C. Republican Party, contacted The Lancaster News to discuss the situation and provided the paper with both the FOIA request and the letter from the school district.

Godfrey said he thought Norrell may have unduly influenced the school administration to move her son to North Elementary.

"We ask that Mandy Powers Norrell, who has criticized her opponent and the Republican Party for advocating school choice to simply answer the question if she used her political power and political influence to use the same school choice," Godfrey said. "If so, she's putting politics and power before people and principles."

Norrell: 'A non-issue'

Norrell said this is a non-issue.

What happened, Norrell said, was that a few years ago, when she learned that Clinton Elementary was changing to a year-round program, she requested to transfer her son to another school, North Elementary.

"I filled out a form to move him to the next school over, North Elementary, and it was approved. It was all very normal," Norrell said. "I just wanted to spend the summer with my son, is that so bad?"

The real issue, she said, is that her children should never have been used in this manner. Norrell said she believes the FOIA request was an intimidation tactic by Republicans.

"I think it's ridiculous. They could've just picked up the phone and asked me," Norrell said. "This is gutter politics. To victimize my children in this way is unconscionable."

School district spokesman David Knight said Clinton Elementary School was indeed running a year-round program, but that the school has since returned to a regular nine-month cycle.

Knight said when Clinton Elementary was transferring to a year-round program, parents were asked if they wanted to keep their children in the school. Those who wanted a transfer were allowed, as long as they filled out the proper transfer paperwork.

Mulvaney said he was not aware of the FOIA request made by the state Republican Party, and he had nothing to do with it.

He said Norrell has wrongly asserted that he was connected to the state Republican Party's FOIA request of the school records.

"I know she wrote a very nasty e-mail about me," Mulvaney said.

Mulvaney said he isn't surprised that the Republican Party requested the school records, as both parties constantly conduct background investigations on their opponents.

He said the Democratic Party looked into his finances, and the York County Democratic Party submitted a FOIA request for e-mails on his computer.

"I do know this is pretty standard stuff," Mulvaney said. "It's part of what you sign on for in political office."

As for inquiries into where his children go to school, he said he has answered several questions on the subject. Mulvaney's children attend a private, Catholic school.

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416