Tanya McDowell pleaded not guilty Wednesday to stealing $15,686 in education expenses from Norwalk, Connecticut taxpayers by allegedly using her babysitter’s address to enroll her 5-year-old son, A.J., into an elementary school in the district.
If found guilty, McDowell, who is homeless, could spend up to 20 years in jail for sending her son to a school outside of his district.
McDowell lives in her van and sleeps at a Norwalk homeless shelter or a friend’s apartment in Bridgeport, the Connecticut Post reports. Prosecutors say her son should go to school in Bridgeport, since that’s the location of her last permanent address.
McDowell called her arrest “bizarre” and said her son, who was removed from Norwalk’s Brookside Elementary school and sent to a school in Bridgeport, is confused about the situation.
This is first time the state has pursued criminal charges against a parent for enrolling their children in the wrong district. Norwalk’s mayor defended the move on Monday, though, saying it was necessary and blasting McDowell for her checkered past.
"This is not a poor, picked-upon homeless person," Mayor Richard Moccia told reporters, reports Fox News. "This is an ex-con, and somehow the city of Norwalk is made into the ogre in this.”
He went on to say: “She knew how to post bond, she had a car -- why didn't she send her kid to the Bridgeport school? This woman is not a victim, and Norwalk is not an ogre. As far as I'm concerned, let them say what they want."
McDowell’s criminal past includes a charge for marijuana and crack cocaine possession last fall (for which she’s pleaded not guilty) and bank robbery conviction 10 years ago that resulted in an 18-month jail sentence, the Post reports.
Her attorney has asked that the trial be moved out of Norwalk, contending that a fair and impartial jury was not possible in that location. She is free on bond and the case has been continued until May 11.
This is the second recent instance of a Black mother willing to risk jail time to get her child a decent education. Back in January, Ohio mother Kelley Williams-Bolar was jailed for enrolling her daughters in her father's suburban school district nearby, using his address.
(Photo:Ap Photo/Stephanie Reitz)