A homeless mother in Connecticut has been charged with theft of "education expenses" totaling nearly $16,000 after it was discovered that she registered her son for school using the babysitter's address.
The Stamford Advocate reports:
A homeless woman from Bridgeport who enrolled her 6-year-old son at a Norwalk elementary school has become the first in the city to be charged with stealing more than $15,000 for the cost of her child's education.
Tanya McDowell, 33, whose last known address was 66 Priscilla St., Bridgeport, was charged Thursday with first-degree larceny and conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny for allegedly stealing $15,686 from Norwalk schools. She was released after posting a $25,000 bond.
McDowell's babysitter, Ana Rebecca Marques, was also evicted from her Roodner Court public housing apartment for providing documents to enroll the child at Brookside Elementary School.
According to the story, McDowell was primarily sleeping at a home in a different city, although she could not be there during the days, and also spent time at a local shelter. The boy went to the sitter's house daily after school.
An argument could be made that as they had no permanent home, there is no reason why the babysitter's house isn't a place of residence, as it was a place he went to daily and had more permanence than their other living situations appeared to. However, the school disagreed and decided after an investigation to press charges against the mother, claiming theft.
The Chair of the board of education admits the move is unusual -- normally a child found attending school out of district is just sent away. Others are speculating why this case became the case that the district appears to be interested in using to "set an example" in order to discourage other parents from attempting to send their children to school with false addresses, especially since the mother obviously has no ability to pay for the "theft." A lawyer involved in a similar case wonders why they wouldn't choose to go after someone where they may have a chance to get reimbursement back for the educational costs while making their point.
Could it be that the district is less concerned about sending a general example and more concerned about sending one geared to a specific audience? Like, for example, the low-income and homeless in the area?
Mayor Richard Moccia said of the case,
"This now sends a message to other parents that may have been living in other towns and registering their kids with phony addresses."
(4/28/2011) Update: In addition to dropping the criminal charges against McDowell, we're calling for the resignation of Norwalk Supervisory Assistant State's Attorney Suzanne Vieux. We've added Stamford State's Attorney David I. Cohen to the target list, who appointed Vieux to her position in 2009.
The criminal case being pursued against McDowell is a disgrace. The accused, Tanya McDowell, may very well have broken the law by using her babysitter's address to enroll her son in a Norwalk Public School, but it is foolish and counter-productive to spend taxpayer dollars prosecuting this woman for theft of "educational services."
In an editorial this week, the Hartford Courant wrote that Norwalk's decision to arrest McDowell was "a severe overreaction" and adds, "One can hardly blame Tanya McDowell for wanting the best for her child." To pursue a case like this creates a dark cloud over our beautiful city, not as a warm and compassionate place to live in, but as a city that is concerned with making examples of the less fortunate.