In what has become a national case with federal protection implications homeless mother, Tanya McDowell, returned to the Norwalk, Conn. State Superior Court for her pretrial hearing regarding her "stealing education" case. This incident escalated into a charge of $15,000 and first-degree larceny -- a felony that could carry up to 20 years in jail.
Prosecution of "Theft of Services" cases, where a child is attending one school district while living with his or her homeless mother in another district are rare, but not unheard of. Kelly Williams-Bolar of Akron, Ohio, is another example of a low-income parent who was sent to jail for falsifying paperwork in order to send her children to a safer and better school.
Walking through TV cameras, reporters and photographers, McDowell faced her hearing of "stealing" her 6-year-old son's education with her attorney, Connecticut NAACP representatives and supporters. In Norwalk it is reported that there were 26 students removed during this current school year for residency issues. So, one has to wonder, why now and why this mother?
Though Assistant State's Attorney Suzanne Vieux, an employee within the prosecutors' office stated there would be no comments during a pending case, Norwalk's Mayor, Richard Moccia, who has publicly made comments about McDowell.
Outside the courthouse Gwen Samuel, founder and president of Connecticut Parents Union held a press conference to display a petition with 310 pages of signatures -- over 15,000 signatures from around the country -- to be submitted to the prosecutor's office.
The petition, which requested that all charges be dropped, was started April 23, 2011 by Norwalk, Connecticut resident Anthony Crisci on Change.org, and is going to be sent to: Gov. Dannel Malloy, Mayor Richard Moccia, Norwalk Superintendent Dr. Susan Marks, Norwallk's Board of Education Chairman Jack Chiaramonte, Chief State's Attorney Kevin T. Kane, and State's Attorney David Cohen. The petition continues that this action is not only wasting taxpayer money but also causing great embarrassment to the City of Norwalk.
The warrant for Ms. McDowell's arrest was issued not from a complaint by the Board of Education, but directly from supervising Assistant State's Attorney Suzanne Vieux, after a Norwalk Housing Authority hearing resulted in the eviction of McDowell's son's babysitter. If the police, prosecutor, or really anyone of authority had shared their concerns with the school board, cooler heads would have prevailed, McDowell's son's rights as a homeless child would have been protected under the Federal McKinney-Vento Act, and perhaps a resolution would have been found long before it began making the nightly news in the New York area and far beyond.
"If this had been placed in front of me," Attorney Matthew Couloutte, a former Connecticut Assistant State's Attorney not representing McDowell said, "I would not have signed the warrant." He was very firm on that position believing this should never have gotten as far as it has.
According to AOL's Patch.com reporter David Gurliacci, Tanya McDowell's attorney, Darnell D. Crosland, and two Connecticut NAACP representatives consulted in the courts' hallway prior to the hearing. Soon after, Tanya left via a rear door while Mr. Crosland entered the courtroom to represent other cases he had in front of the judge. McDowell did not make an appearance and soon after Attorney Crosland left the courthouse and held a quick news conference.
He stated that the case has moved to an Administration phase while they are conducting discovery, which includes collecting statements before appearing again on June 7th. The Connecticut chapter of the NAACP's President Scot X. Esdaile is also petitioning the State's Attorney for a change of venue out of Norwalk, to help level the playing field and put McDowell's son "on par" with the other 26 children removed for using illegal addresses from Norwalk Public Schools this school year.
When questioned why McDowell had been singled out, Crosland responded that there was no dispute that she had lived in the Norwalk Homeless Shelter for nine months in 2009. Her intent was to continue her son's education. Currently, she is focused on protecting her young son's interests. When asked how her son was doing, Crosland mentioned the 6-year-old continues to have nightmares, is frightened by what others are telling him -- that his mother "stole" -- and thinks she stole the school. He worries that when she leaves for court, she may not return because she will be put in jail.
This is no way for a child to grow up and one can only hope that with so much attention, the family can get the help and services they so desperately need NOW!
Go to Change.org to read or sign the petition