Tanya McDowell, the Connecticut woman charged with stealing her son's education after sending him to a school allegedly outside of her district, was arraigned on drug charges today.
McDowell, 33, is being held on $200,000 bond. She was arrested Friday after she allegedly sold crack cocaine and marijuana to undercover officers.
McDowell's arrest came three days after she participated in an education reform rally with Rev. Al Sharpton that was organized by the NAACP. In April, McDowell was charged with first degree grand larceny and conspiracy for allegedly stealing $15,686 in educational services from Norwalk Public Schools because she sent her 6-year-old son to Brookside Elementary School, a school allegedly outside of her district.
Sharpton told ABC News that his appearance at the rally was not in response to McDowell's case and that he is not familiar with the intricacies of her case.
"My position is this young man, the son, should be treated like any other kid if their parent didn't live in the district," Sharpton said. "We don't play politics with the boy. If this mother is unfit to be a mother, it doesn't solve what happens to the boy."
McDowell claims that she registered her son in Brookside despite not being a resident there because she was homeless at the time and floating between a shelter, a friend's apartment in Norwalk and a home in Bridgeport when she registered her son for school.
Under federal law, children can continue to attend classes in a school district where they began their education if the family was homeless.
Her story became fuel for education activists, sparking reform rallies and garnering national attention. The Connecticut chapter of the NAACP, which flocked to McDowell's support in April, would not comment on the drug charges.
"The criminalization of parents trying to enroll their child in a better quality school simply to give their child a chance for a better life is wrong and should be resolved through civil not criminal means," said Scot Esdaile, president of the NAACP Connecticut chapter. "We have no comment on the drug charge against Ms. McDowell which will be adjudicated in a court of law as it should be."
Connecticut education activist Gwen Samuel said McDowell's arrest "muddies the waters" of her efforts.
"We hope for the best for her. We're hoping that everything works out with her son and we still support him," said Samuel, founder of the Connecticut Parents Union.
Since McDowell was first charged with stealing her son's education, allegations of bias have been hurled at the city police and government.
"I do believe Norwalk has a black eye from this, so they were going to look for anything. It could have been jaywalking. I'm not excusing it. I don't know what occurred," Samuel said.
McDowell's attorney, Darnell Crosland, lashed out at police saying that the timing of McDowell's arrest is "strange." Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling told ABC News there was no bias and that McDowell was not a target.
"His [Darnell Crosland's] assertion that I put together a task force to focus on Tanya McDowell is not only ridiculous. It's irresponsible," Rilling said.
Rilling said undercover narcotics officers came to him several weeks ago to say that McDowell was on the streets dealing drugs.
"I told them they should proceed as they would in any other case, that no one should feel they have the right to deal narcotics openly and with impunity," Rilling said.
An arrest affidavit obtained by the Stamford Advocate also claims that McDowell attempted to offer officers the service of two prostitutes.
Before being arrested regarding her son's education, McDowell was arrested in November 2010 for possession of narcotics. She is a convicted felon who was found guilty of first degree robbery and illegal possession of a weapon in a motor vehicle. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2001.
"I think she had a tremendous opportunity to take advantage of all the support and to perhaps get herself off the street and based on what the investigation has thus far revealed, she didn't take advantage of that," Rilling said.
Calls to McDowell's attorney were not returned. McDowell is due back in court on July 12 for the charges relating to her son's schooling.