A homeless and unemployed woman from Bridgeport has been arrested for enrolling her 5-year-old son at a Norwalk elementary school.
Tonya McDowell, 33, is accused of stealing $15,000 -- the cost of her son's public education -- from the Norwalk School District, according to the Stamford Advocate. She was arrested last Thursday.
“I was just walking to eat lunch at the shelter and they jumped out and locked me up,” she said.
Her son was kicked out of Brookside in December because of the residency issue and McDowell enrolled him in Bridgeport schools, and she thought that was the end of it.
But, police began investigating in January, after the Norwalk Housing Authority filed a complaint that McDowell had registered her son at Brookside Elementary School in Norwalk, even though she had been living in an apartment on Priscilla Street in Bridgeport.
McDowell admitted to police she was allowed to sleep in the apartment on Priscilla Street in Bridgeport by the tenant, but had to leave during the day, according to the Advocate. She also told police she sometimes stayed at an emergency shelter in Norwalk.
Police say McDowell used the Norwalk address of the boy's babysitter to register him at the school. After the investigation, the babysitter was evicted.
"At the time, I was just staying in my van and not having anywhere to go," McDowell said.
McDowell’s story hits home for Gwen Samuel, an unemployed parent from Meriden who is fighting for Tanya’s son and other children who could easily get lost in this education shuffle.
“It doesn't make any sense. It doesn't make any sense at all,” she said. “We, as the adults need to figure this system out. This is not OK, under no circumstances.”
Samuel has contacted legislators for help and is coordinating a grassroots effort to support McDowell, even though the two have never met.
Typically, when there is a residency question, a private investigator is hired to handle the matter, authorities said, so why this time police were called in resulting in criminal charges is unclear.
Lt. Paul Resnick said this is the first time he has heard of this happened.
"Usually when they find a kid out of district, they send him back. I have never heard of people being arrested for it," Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Jack Chiaramonte told the Advocate.
The apparent crackdown may have something to do with the city's tightening budget.
"This now sends a message to other parents that may have been living in other towns and registering their kids with phony addresses," Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia said.
McDowell, whose last known address was in Bridgeport, is facing first-degree larceny and conspiracy to commit larceny charges, the paper reported.