Tanya McDowell, 33, is fighting an arrest for sending her 5-year-old son to school and trying to answer his questions about why he can no longer attend the school he loved.
McDowell was in court on Wednesday on the unusual accusation that she stole $15,686 worth of education for her son by sending him to school in Norwalk when they have no permanent address in the town.
And a judge entered a not guilty plea on her behalf and the case has been continued to next month.
“We shouldn't be subjecting Ms. McDowell to the court system, and we shouldn't be looking to put her in jail, facing 20 years for a larceny in the first degree,” said Attorney Darnell Crosland, Chairman of the Connecticut NAACP Legal Redress Committee and second Vice President of the Norwalk NAACP Branch, who is representing her.
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.
As the investigation began, McDowell told police she was living in a van and occasionally sleeping at a Norwalk shelter or a friend's Bridgeport apartment when she enrolled her son in the Norwalk school.
The little boy attended the school from September 2010 until Jan. 14, 2011, according to Norwalk Public Schools.
But, then there was a phone call, a message left on the answering machine, saying she should not bring her son to the school any longer because he had been removed, Crosland said.
In the months that follow, McDowell’s son is upset.
“He's curious, very furious in regards to it because he thinks that I stole Brookside away from him. I took it away from him. He's only 5-years-old. It's hard to explain to a 5-year-old kid that you know you got kicked out because we don't have a steady address,” McDowell said. “My son loves that school. He loves his teachers, he loves the environment over there.”
Norwalk schools said they did not initiate the processes to remove the boy from school, attempt to recoup tuition money or file charges against the single mom.
McDowell's case was continued until May 11.
Crosland is asking for a change in venue because the prosecutor is the daughter of Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia. Moccia had no comment.
Gwen Samuel, founder of the Connecticut Parents Union, held a news conference outside court on Wednesday to call for prosecutors to drop the first-degree larceny charge against McDowell.
“We could've put the brakes on this and made sure that we were doing what was best for the child. I think it moved from zero to 90 too fast, and that is where we are here today,” she said. “We cannot be so pressed for financial dollars that we are now arresting parents.”
The babysitter whose address McDowell is accused of using to enroll her son in school was evicted from her public housing unit during the investigation.