A homeless Connecticut woman recently pleaded not guilty in state Superior Court to stealing nearly $16,000 by falsely enrolling her 5-year-old son in a local school district.
According to the Associated Press, Tanya McDowell was arraigned in Norwalk, Conn. on April 27 for felony charges of first-degree larceny.
Police say the 33-year-old enrolled her son in Connecticut’s Norwalk school district last fall by using her babysitter’s address. But McDowell should have instead enrolled him in nearby Bridgeport, a poorer urban district and the location of her last home. The boy was removed from Norwalk’s Brookside Elementary School in January and now attends school in the Bridgeport district.
“He’s only 5 years old and it’s hard like to explain to a 5-year-old kid, you know, ‘You got kicked out because we don’t have a steady address yet,’” McDowell told the AP.
According to The (Stamford, Conn.) Advocate newspaper, the woman’s attorneys, Michael Thomas and Darnell Crossland, said she was homeless at the time she enrolled her son in the Norwalk school and, under federal law, he should have been allowed to remain there. They said in court that they believe the controversial case should be handled outside of Norwalk and in front of a fair and impartial jury.
McDowell’s case marks the first in the town’s history that a person was charged for enrolling their children in the wrong school district. The state’s branch of the NAACP vowed to support the mother during the case. Crossland is the second vice president of the organization’s Norwalk chapter.
While McDowell has picked up supporters since her arrest, Norwalk officials said the city is unfairly getting a bad reputation and is pointing to the woman’s previous criminal history, challenging her innocence.
“This is not a poor, picked-upon homeless person,” Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia told The New York Daily News. “This is an ex-con, and somehow the city of Norwalk is made into the ogre in this. She has a checkered past at best.”
McDowell was charged last November for possessing 62 small bags of marijuana and 14 small bags of crack cocaine. The Daily News also reported that she had served an 18-month prison term for robbery and weapons charges.
McDowell will return to court May 11 for the school enrollment case, and also will appear before a judge that same day for her drug charges. If she is convicted in the school enrollment case, she faces up to 20 years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines.