May 10, 2011

A homeless mother in Connecticut goes back to court Wednesday for a pre-trial hearing, facing charges of larceny for enrolling her child in a school district where she did not have residence.

But 33-year-old Tanya McDowell has no residence. She is homeless, her lawyer said.

In September 2010, McDowell enrolled her five-year-old son in the Norwalk school system, using the address of the child's babysitter. She was arrested and charged last month.

"This has been traumatic for the mother and the child," said Scott X Esdaile, Connecticut state president of the NAACP.

"The child is in a different school now, but when she drops him off, he wonders if Mommy will be back," Esdaile said. "He wonders what he has done wrong."

The NAACP brought attorney Darnell Crosland onto the case a few weeks ago for McDowell, who previously was represented by a court-appointed attorney, Esdaile told

McDowell was charged with first-degree larceny and conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny after police said she lied about living in a Roodner Court apartment, leased through the Norwalk Housing Authority to her friend and babysitter, Ana Marques.

It was during an eviction hearing for Marques that McDowell testified that she didn't live in the apartment, but instead lived nearby in Bridgeport. Her son attended Brookside Elementary School, but withdrew from the school in January after the hearing, Crosland said.

During the investigation, McDowell explained she could only stay at the residence in Bridgeport at night and had to leave during the day. She also said she sometimes slept at the Norwalk Emergency Shelter and claims to occasionally sleep in her car.

Norwalk School System officials released a statement last month saying that they are not responsible for McDowell's arrest.

"The Norwalk Public Schools enrolled Ms. McDowell's son in September 2010, based on residence information provided by Ms. McDowell," the statement read. "The Norwalk Public schools did not initiate the proceeding in the Housing Court at which Ms. McDowell testified. The Norwalk Public Schools did not initiate a residency proceeding to remove Ms. McDowell's son from Brookside Elementary School. Finally, the Norwalk Public Schools did not initiate any action for tuition reimbursement against Ms. McDowell.

"The Norwalk Public Schools fully comply with the McKinney-Vento Act, which requires public schools to provide schools for the homeless. In this case, according to her own testimony, Ms. McDowell and her son reside in Bridgeport, and we are aware of no evidence that she or her son are homeless."

In recent weeks, it has been reported that the Norwalk School system has disenrolled students from 26 families because they were zone jumping, said Crosland.

But McDowell is homeless, and she has previously been incarcerated. Crosland questions whether McDowell's status and her past contributed to the decision to arrest her.


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