Tanya McDowell, a Connecticut mom charged with larceny for allegedly "stealing" her son’s education when she used a friend’s home address to get her five-year-old son into a nearby school district, pleaded not guilty yesterday.
School officials say that McDowell had no right to enroll her son A.J. Paches in Brookside Elementary School in Norwalk, where he was in kindergarten. Paches has since been booted out of the school and transferred to a school in Bridgeport, where officials say he belongs. McDowell, who was homeless and had been shuttling between shelters, her van, a friend’s Norwalk apartment and a Bridgeport apartment, used her friend’s Norwalk address to get her son into a neighboring school that she thought was a good fit.
"It’s a pretty good school and that’s all I want for my son, is a great education," McDowell told FoxCT. "I didn’t commit a crime by wanting my son the best education for my child."
McDowell faces 20 years in prison and three years of probation for allegedly stealing $15,686 in education funds from the Norwalk school district. McDowell’s friend Ana Rebecca Marques has since been evicted for her role in the case.
But after a national outcry over the charges, the city of Norwalk is standing resolute in its prosecution of McDowell.
"This woman never claimed she was homeless, never told us she was homeless, was using an illegal address in a public housing complex, has a checkered past and despite all the protestation that she’s concerned about her son, if she had done things right, this would have never happened," Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia told the Norwalk Patch.
Moccia has also said that McDowell, who has past convictions on her record, is not really homeless.
"She only became, quote, homeless, after she was arrested." Moccia told FoxCT. Moccia insists that his concern for Paches is what drove the city to prosecute McDowell, and told the station that he’d referred McDowell’s case to the Department of Child Services
"I just want to know: When does it become a crime to seek a better education for your child?" McDowell said, the Norwalk Patch reported.
Residency fraud is a well-known and often overlooked offense among parents who will fight to get their children into the best public schools that they can. Some school districts like San Francisco Unified have begun cracking down on residency fraud, but have not prosecuted parents. In the last year, high-profile prosecutions of parents charged with residency fraud have made headlines. In both cases, black mothers were prosecuted. Ohio mom Kelly Williams-Bolar was even jailed for using her father’s address to get her daughters into a better public school.
The NAACP has since stepped in to help represent McDowell. McDowell’s attorney Darnell Crossland said in a press conference on Tuesday that by prosecuting McDowell, Norwalk may have violated a federal law that protects homeless children.
McDowell’s next court date is set for May 11.