April 26, 2011 -- The NAACP is stepping in to help Tanya McDowell, the Connecticut mother arrested for allegedly sending her son to a school outside of her district.
McDowell will be arraigned Wednesday on charges that she stole educational services from Norwalk Public Schools by allegedly lying about her home address.
Tanya McDowell, 33, was arrested April 15 and charged with first degree grand larceny for allegedly stealing $15,686 in educational services from Norwalk Public Schools. Her 6-year-old son was enrolled in Brookside Elementary School in Norwalk, Conn., from September of last year until January of this year.
"The NAACP doesn't like that they're trying to attack somebody whose poor and doesn't have a good support system," said Scot X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut State Conference of the NAACP. "This is discrimination."
McDowell claims that she's homeless and was floating between a homeless shelter, a friend's apartment in Norwalk and a home in Bridgeport when she registered her son for school. McDowell registered her son under her babysitter's address in Norwalk. McDowell told The Daily Norwalk that she simply wanted the best education for her son.
Under federal law, children can continue to attend classes in a school district where they began their education if the family was homeless.
Norwalk Mayor Richard A. Moccia refused to talk to ABC News, but defended the arrest to other media outlets.
"This woman never claimed she was homeless, never told us she was homeless, was using an illegal address in a public housing complex, has a checkered past and despite all the protestation that she's concerned about her son, if she had done things right, this would have never happened," Moccia told the Norwalk Patch.
McDowell 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.
Authorities were alerted to the alleged illegal enrollment when McDowell testified at an eviction hearing for her babysitter, Ana Rebecca Marquez, in January.
"This particular tenant, Ms. Marquez, was accused of allowing Ms. McDowell and her son to live with her," said Donna Lattarulo, an attorney for the Norwalk Housing Authority. "During that hearing, Ms. McDowell testified under oath that she did not reside at the premises where Ms. Marquez lived, but she resided in Bridgeport... She never testified that she was homeless."
Lattarulo said that she told the Norwalk Prosecutor's Office about Marquez's testimony, but did not file a criminal complaint. Officials from Norwalk Public Schools said that they did not initiate the eviction hearing or file a criminal complaint against McDowell.
The NAACP thinks that Moccia and the city are wrongly pursuing McDowell.
"We think that this is a major case of abuse of power by the mayor. We just found out that his daughter is head prosecutor in the case. There's also some foul play with police officers in town of Norwalk," said Esdaile from the NAACP.
Moccia's daughter, Suzanne Vieux, is the supervisory state attorney for Norwalk.
McDowell's battle over her son's schooling has gained the support of the Connecticut Parents Union, led by Gwen Samuel. Samuel has talked by phone with McDowell every day since she first heard about the case last week.
"I'm very disappointed in leadership of the mayor. He's responsible not only for adult taxpayers but future taxpayers. To be so callous on this issue and victimize the mom. Nobody is focusing on this child," Samuel said.
Samuel said that McDowell's son attended pre-kindergarten classes in Norwalk. McDowell was told to register her son for kindergarten in the same district, Samuel said.
"She [McDowell] understands something about the importance of education…I'm disappointed and I'm scared... I'm afraid of a system that would rather arrest me for being a good parent than help me raise my child to be a productive citizen."