For the second time this year, a mother has been charged with a crime after enrolling her child in a public school district. The Stamford Advocate reports that Tonya McDowell, a homeless woman from Bridgeport, CT is facing grand larceny and conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny charges. She is accused of “stealing” over $15k: the cost of her 6-year-old son’s schooling in a Norwalk elementary school.
The 33 year old mother used the address of her son’s babysitter, Ana Rebecca Marques, to enroll her son at Brookside Elementary. Marques was evicted from her public housing tenement for her participation. The Norwalk Housing Authority filed a complaint against McDowell in January, which sparked the police investigation into the family’s residency. The mother provided an affidavit of residency dated last September, listing her home as the Roodner Court public housing complex in Norwalk. She confessed to police during the investigation that she had actually been living in Bridgeport when she enrolled her son in school. McDowell stated that she had a friend in Norwalk that owned a home and allowed her to sleep there at night, but that she had to vacate during the day until he returned from work and that she also stays in the Norwalk Emergency Shelter on occasion.
Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Jack Chiarmonte expressed his surprise about McDowell’s arrest.”This is the first time I have heard something like this where there has been an arrest. Other allegations like this have been handled by the central office.” Vice Chairman Glenn Iannaccone stated that he was also unfamiliar with any other previous cases that resulted in an arrest, but that private investigators are routinely used to follow up on suspicions about children coming in from other school districts. Of McDowell’s case, he says “Maybe this is the district’s way of cracking down on this.”
Mayor Richard Moccia seemed to lack sympathy for the mother. “This now sends a message to other parents that may have been living in other towns and registering their kids with phony addresses.” He told the Stamford Advocate that while the case is “sad”, that McDowell would not be in this predicament if she was living in the Norwalk shelter when she registered her child for school. He also mentioned that as budget woes grow, there will be more concerted efforts to remove out-of-district students from schools.
Local Norwalk defense attorney Michael Corsello, who represented a mother in a similar case a few years ago, wonders why McDowell was chosen to be made an example of, considering the unlikelihood that a homeless woman would be able to pay anything back. “There are some people where you could effect (sic) restitution through the criminal justice system. If the woman is homeless then restitution probably is not possible,” said Corsello. “Obviously, doing this will have a deterring effect on others doing the same thing, but you would think they could get similar evidence on someone with more ability to pay restitution.”
Like the case of Kelley Williams-Bollar earlier this year, this seems needlessly cruel. The public shame of removing McDowell’s child and citing her name in the media could have surely sufficed. But to put a struggling mother through the legal system? Making it that much harder for her to find a permanent home, work and a school for her child? Completely unnecessary. What will happen for the young boy if his mother is incarcerated? What sort of impact has this ordeal already taken on him at only six years old? We are living in truly sad times when women are prosecuted for attempting to secure a quality public education for their children, considering the level to which under-educated persons are persecuted for relying upon social programs and government assistance. It seems like women like Williams-Bollar and McDowell can’t win for losing.