Another Mom Jailed for Sending Child to Wrong School District
Please click here to join our coalition to help Ms. McDowell
When Rev. Al Sharpton and I went to Ohio earlier this year to rally on behalf of Kelley Williams-Bolar, I thought I’d be done with cases like this for at least a little while. However, the Your Black World Coalition has been informed today that another mother in Connecticut has also been put in jail for enrolling her child in the wrong school district.
Tonya McDowell, a homeless woman from Bridgeport, CT, has been charged with grand larceny and conspiracy to commit first degree larceny after enrolling her son in Brookside Elementary, in Norwalk, CT. McDowell used the address of a friend, Ana Rebecca Marques, to get her 6-year old into the school. The district is accusing her of stealing $15,000 in services for her “deviant” behavior.
Ms. Marques was evicted from the Norwalk Housing Authority projects for her role in the incident after a complaint was filed against Ms. McDowell. This led to an investigation, where the mother filed an affidavit stating her son’s residence to be in the Roodner Court Public housing complex in Norwalk.
Ms. McDowell told police that she’d been living in Bridgeport in a homeless shelter when her son was enrolled in school. She also said she has a friend in Norwalk who allowed her to stay there at night and leave during the day. Effectively, she and her son were rotating between the homeless shelter and staying with friends in order to survive.
“This is the first time I have heard something like this where there has been an arrest. Other allegations like this have been handled by the central office,” said Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Jack Chiarmonte.
Richard Moccia, the Mayor of Norwalk, had this to say:
“This now sends a message to other parents that may have been living in other towns and registering their kids with phony addresses.”
I’m still doing my research on Norwalk, CT, but it appears that the city is relatively affluent, with an average income of over $70,000 (according to 2007 Census data). But it’s hard to gauge at this point what the motivation might be to incarcerate Ms. McDowell for trying to get her son a proper education. Simple logic implies that whatever resources were saved from him not being enrolled in his home district (whatever that might be) could be applied to the secondary district. So putting parents in jail for sending their kids to schools outside their district is simply a legalized way of fencing out those that the community deems to be undesirable.
The other interesting thing about this case is that one has to wonder exactly how it can be argued that a person without a home is outside their county of residence. Beating up on a homeless woman who is doing all she can to get her child into school is a shameful microcosm of the kind of greed and selfishness our country has chosen to embrace. There was once a time when slaves were arrested for trying to learn how to read, and now poor mothers are being arrested for trying to send their children to the school of their choice.
NAACP President Ben Jealous just released a statement in which he cited the fact that our nation continues to suffer by spending more to incarcerate than we are spending to educate. The NAACP statement becomes loud and clear in the case of Tonya McDowell, for it is downright shameful that this mother is being taken away from her son, when she’s probably all that he’s got. After being forced to grow up without the person who loves him the most, statistical data says that Ms. McDowell’s son will likely end up in the system, just like his mother. With a criminal record, Ms. McDowell’s future employment prospects will be crippled and her son’s lack of education will likely impact his economic opportunities as well. I am hurt that our nation has now made a tradition out of maintaining the cycle of intergenerational marginalization.
We’ve all got to come together to help Ms. McDowell. Please click here to sign a petition on her behalf and we will follow up with contact information to the mayor’s office so that we can make a concerted effort to fight on behalf of this mother who is being penalized for trying to give her son a better future. This situation is sad and sickening, and I am going to reach out to as many people as I can to let Norwalk officials know that this kind of behavior is both unAmerican and unacceptable. We will NOT allow this child’s future to be destroyed by ignorance.