Homeless mom jailed for sending child to school

[deleted account] ( 30 moms have responded )


A homeless and unemployed woman from Bridgeport has been arrested for enrolling her 5-year-old son at a Norwalk elementary school.

Tonya McDowell, 33, is accused of stealing $15,000 -- the cost of her son's public education -- from the Norwalk School District, according to the Stamford Advocate. She was arrested last Thursday.

“I was just walking to eat lunch at the shelter and they jumped out and locked me up,” she said.

Her son was kicked out of Brookside in December because of the residency issue and McDowell enrolled him in Bridgeport schools, and she thought that was the end of it.

But, police began investigating in January, after the Norwalk Housing Authority filed a complaint that McDowell had registered her son at Brookside Elementary School in Norwalk, even though she had been living in an apartment on Priscilla Street in Bridgeport.

McDowell admitted to police she was allowed to sleep in the apartment on Priscilla Street in Bridgeport by the tenant, but had to leave during the day, according to the Advocate. She also told police she sometimes stayed at an emergency shelter in Norwalk.

Police say McDowell used the Norwalk address of the boy's babysitter to register him at the school. After the investigation, the babysitter was evicted.

"At the time, I was just staying in my van and not having anywhere to go," McDowell said.

McDowell’s story hits home for Gwen Samuel, an unemployed parent from Meriden who is fighting for Tanya’s son and other children who could easily get lost in this education shuffle.

“It doesn't make any sense. It doesn't make any sense at all,” she said. “We, as the adults need to figure this system out. This is not OK, under no circumstances.”

Samuel has contacted legislators for help and is coordinating a grassroots effort to support McDowell, even though the two have never met.

Typically, when there is a residency question, a private investigator is hired to handle the matter, authorities said, so why this time police were called in resulting in criminal charges is unclear.

Lt. Paul Resnick said this is the first time he has heard of this happened.

"Usually when they find a kid out of district, they send him back. I have never heard of people being arrested for it," Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Jack Chiaramonte told the Advocate.

The apparent crackdown may have something to do with the city's tightening budget.

"This now sends a message to other parents that may have been living in other towns and registering their kids with phony addresses," Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia said.

McDowell, whose last known address was in Bridgeport, is facing first-degree larceny and conspiracy to commit larceny charges, the paper reported.

What do you think? What could be done instead?


Jenny - posted on 04/24/2011




Like Carol, I'm glad to live in an area where you can go to school anywhere you want. It helps avoid the (wealth) class seperations.

Tara is totally right on this and we should be paying attention. This is being done deliberately. There are a group of people moving to make schools a for-profit industry. If that happenes consider the class war won.

Education is everything, we have to fight to keep the highest quality of it possible. Whomever ordered the arrest of this woman deserves a punch to the face.

[deleted account]

That's horrible. First the kid has no home. Then he gets kicked out of school. Now he loses his mom.

The system sucks. My cousin-in-law (who got his GED as an adult) got kicked out of school in the 9th grade cuz he was homeless and his parents were both already in jail. THAT didn't matter, but the fact that he was trying to attend school and graduate even though he had no home and no parents did..... He was still homeless w/ 2 parents in jail after they kicked him out.... Again, the system sucks every kid deserves to be in school regardless of their living situation and being homeless shouldn't be a crime.

Cassie - posted on 04/26/2011




This is BEYOND RIDICULOUS! A woman wanted her child in school & does anything she can to make that happen & then gets ARRESTED FOR IT? Call me an american but WHAT THE HECK? This is uncalled for! This should be an example as to what NOT to do! I'm sorry if I was percieved as being too passionate on this subject. But its what I believe.

Constance - posted on 04/26/2011




If she is indeed homeless which is what I read. There is a Federal Law that allows parents to enroll their children in any school as long as they tell the schooldistrict the situation. There is a temporary housing form that has to be filled out. It applies o people who are living in motels, cars, shelters, even a residence that they getting a room but have no finacial ties to the house. For a mother to be arrested because she s trying to let her child get an education which is also federal law is completely rediculous. Also school districts have a homeless leasion that s who she needs to contact for help. But she also deserves an appology because she didn't do anything wrong.

Johnny - posted on 04/24/2011




That article just made me think worse of the situation. If the woman is unable to rent or own any dwelling, she is homeless. Staying in a shelter or couch surfing is not sufficient housing, particularly when I child is involved. Greatest nation my ass!


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[deleted account]

This is why rich will always stay rich and poor will always stay poor. Those children will be raised homeless, be homeless, be unemployed, be uneducated, and the cycle will begin once more. Way to go world. Lets raise our next generation properly? Don't make me laugh.

Brandi - posted on 04/26/2011




This is OUTRAGEOUS!! This child deserves an education just as well as any other child. NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND... UM, HELLLLOOOOO??? This poor child cannot help that his mother is homeless. I really don't think this lady should be having this much trouble. Give her a break. It sounds like she has already been through enough. And, that poor child who has no idea why everyone is so mad. C'MON, PEOPLE!

Casey - posted on 04/26/2011




Ummm I don't get it lol, I'm from Australia and here in this country you can send your kid to any damn school you like regardless of weather you live in that area or not, so I don't understand how someone could be arrested just for sending their kid to a school out of their district, what if you don't like the schools in you district? would they prefer it if your kids didn't go to school at all? it just sounds ridiculous to me.

[deleted account]

Apparently, she had permission to sleep in a friend's house, so they don't consider that "homeless" however, having her actually live in the friend's apartment was a violation of the friend's lease, so she didn't technically "live" there, but she had a place to sleep. She claims she was unsure which school she was supposed to register him to and made a judgment call based on where he spent the most time. Apparently, she should have used the Shelter as her address. I would almost be fine with that until I found out about her addictions.

The child was placed in a new school, but was placed with family while the mom was incarcerated. What really bothers me is that she was arrested for the school thing when she has a drug problem. The child should not be in her custody in the first place. I know I'll get slammed for this, but MOST people who are homeless (my parents included) are homeless because they choose to be (with the exception of kids, I'll explain below). Of course, no one says "yea, I think I'd like to be homeless now," but they decide that other things are more important than a residence. For this lady, just like for my dad, drugs were more important. For my mom, staying with my dad was more important than a residence.

That said, SHE chose homelessness, the child should not be forced to give up his education and thus his right to choose weather he wants to be homeless or not. Very few CHILDREN who are homeless, are able to get and keep homes as adults because they don't know how--we learn this from watching our parents, but if our parents don't have a house, don't keep a house, there is no one to learn it from. They don't teach it in school. I had to learn it myself--I asked teachers who sent me to banks where I learned about jobs and loans and checking--my parents didn't do any of that. Well, my mom worked, but she worked so much that I only saw her occasionally, maybe once or twice a week.

Being homeless is hard, no child should have to deal with it, and yes, I know he had a warm place to sleep at night, but it is not the same as an actual "home". "Home" is a place to be safe and when you don't have that, school becomes the next best thing--it has structure, regular meals, predictability and people who don't hit you. When they yanked this poor child out because he didn't have a clear home, they took the closest thing he had to it and that infuriates me. I don't think these people realize how stressful it is to never know what is going to happen next. I know I'm rambling, but it's Easter and I've been with family, so I've been thinking about it a lot today.

Jenn - posted on 04/24/2011




What's up with the link? It was telling me that it was possible malware or something. What's the scoop on her not being homeless?

Jodi - posted on 04/24/2011




I am confused....does the system there also require that your child move schools if you happen to move house down the road but in a different district? That's just stupid......

[deleted account]

Sending your child to school is an arrestable offense? Where are the homeless supposed to send their children to school or are we supposed to just ignore them? Hell, let's reintroduce the workhouse for these lazy homeless people!

I get the budgetary concerns, I do. Our county has dozens of individual schools and school boards with bleeding budgets but to arrest her is asinine.

Sneaky - posted on 04/24/2011




Mostly I'm wondering HOW a child could be considered 'out of district' if he is HOMELESS, by definition having NO district. And I do understand the using of a mailing address to enroll a child in a school out of district - I just don't get how that can apply to a homeless person - isn't that something that scummy upper class people do?

I'm just really pissed off that this mother is doing the BEST she can for her kid, in spite of their circumstances, and she is, in effect, being punished for being homeless. Bastards.

Christina - posted on 04/23/2011




This makes me sick. So what the hell is the mom suppose to do? Not send her son to school and get arrested because she isn't providing him an education? However, there are tons of Charter schools that are free and anyone can attend them. But still, to arrest her sickens me!

Ez - posted on 04/23/2011




How is this even possible? An already disadvantaged kid is now being further ostracised by the people who should be protecting and supporting him. Disgraceful.

Nikki - posted on 04/23/2011




Wow, my heart breaks for this mother, what a terrible situation to be in. This system is truly disgusting, all this mother was trying to do was to create a better life for her child. The land of the free? not so much!

Jodi - posted on 04/23/2011




The more I hear about the state of welfare in the US, the more disgusted I become......way to go. Honestly, I can't see what arresting the mother for *stealing* because she wants her son to have an education is going to achieve. Truly, truly disgusting.

Johnny - posted on 04/23/2011




These people are evil. Just evil. There is no excuse for that level of cruelty to a child. They are the ones who should be in jail for being heartless bastards!

Luckily, our province got rid of jurisdictional rules about 10 years ago. It does not matter where you live, you can register for any school. The only time it matters is if the schools are too full, then you need to prove you live in the catchment area. A few kids around here go to school in the next municipality, which is only 4 blocks away. It's no big deal.

Bonnie - posted on 04/23/2011




In a way it makes sense because for most schools, you have to be living within a proximity to the school to attend. So what is a homeless family to do? Is he suppose to be denied the right to learn and make friends? So now he is denied the right to learn and make friends and denied the right to have his mommy with him. That is sad :-(

Kate CP - posted on 04/23/2011




Well what the hell is she supposed to do? Not sending your kid to school is illegal...sending your kid to school is illegal.

The educational system in this country is fucked. >:(

[deleted account]

Another thing I forgot to mention. I know if you are homeless here all you have to do is fill out a special form and they provide bussing for your kid to and from school.... even if you live out of district. I do love living somewhere that kids actually matter.... even if we do have one of the lowest education systems in the nation.... lol

[deleted account]

I didn't know this was legal. As far as I know, all children have a right to public education in my state. In fact, at my old school there was some legal mumbo jumbo posted in the teacher's lounge about homeless children and education. Perhaps that was something that came out of the Katrina situation and chaos we had here. Anyway, this article is disturbing. Poor kid.

Amber - posted on 04/23/2011




This is absolutely disgusting. Where the hell can you donate money for her defense?

[deleted account]

To many people today want to punish.What ever happened to helping one another.Reaching out and making a difference not punishing and destroying what little people have left.Shame on the people who felt the need to rip this family apart instead of helping them and keeping them together.

Indeed Teresa,being homeless is not a crime, punishing and ripping this family apart, well let me tell you all, that is a true CRIME.:-(

Tara - posted on 04/23/2011




Equal education for all, housing for those who have lost their jobs and home due to the economic downturn, and proper and respectful ways of dealing with issues such as this would all be a start.
I am disgusted by this. In a country as "powerful and rich" as the US is, in a country where billions are spent on an endless war abroad, Why? Why is this kind of thing happening?
It's sad and disturbing. And people raise an eyebrow when I talk about a systematic and intentional effort by the powers that be to create a class system within the school system, start when they are young and separate the haves from the have nots and you start to create your next generation of lower class, apathetic, non voting citizens. sad and unbelievable in a country like the US, but even sadder is I'm not surprised.

[deleted account]

This hits home for me for two reasons. One, my district is heavily cracking down on this issue, and Two, because I was homeless for most of my school years.

I understand the need to crack down--in our area, many schools are heavily over crowded while under performing schools are not even filled to capacity--in some cases, enrolled at less than 70% while others are enrolled at more than 110% of their capacity due to students from other areas lying about their addresses in order to attend.

In most cases, when a student is "caught" they are just pulled out and registered at the correct school; however, the problem has become so pronounced that legal action is now taken.

So where do the homeless go?

When I was a child, my parents registered me with my grandmother's address. This was not a good school district, so there were no investigations, but you MUST have an address, with a utility, to register for school, and we simply didn't have one. (we did not have access to a homeless shelter at the time as it was too far from my mother's work).

I do realize, by some standards, we were stealing from the school district because we were not paying property taxes....we didn't have any property to pay them on, BUT pubic education is, by law, available for ANYONE who seeks it, regardless of income or property ownership--It is just a matter of what school to go to, and if you do not live anywhere, how would you know?

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