Mother who stole son’s education gets 12 years in prison


Tanya McDowell, the Bridgeport mother accused of fraudulently enrolling her son in a Norwalk school and stealing more than $15,000 in educational services from the district, has pleaded guilty.

McDowell was sentenced to 12 years in prison, suspended after five, and must pay back up to $6,200 to the city of Norwalk for stealing her son’s education.

McDowell’s 12 year sentence also includes four counts of drug possession and sale charges, which she pleaded guilty to on Wednesday.

McDowell was homeless when she was charged with felony larceny last year. Authorities allege she enrolled her son in kindergarten in Norwalk using a babysitter’s address when he should have attended Bridgeport schools, where her last permanent address was.

Darnel Crosland, McDowell’s attorney said McDowell’s  son still thinks his mother stole the Norwalk school.

“That’s the sad part. He’s with his grandmother and she’s doing the best to raise him,” Crosland said. “I think you should measure her not by the fact that she was arrested for selling drugs but what has she done for her child.”

McDowell’s case drew national attention and support from civil rights leaders and other advocates, who wanted the charge dismissed.


7 thoughts on “Mother who stole son’s education gets 12 years in prison

  1. K. Alexander

    So… I did this, and trust me, it was scary at times, so articles like this really upsets me. I was always scared of getting in trouble. Luckily, nothing happened to me (besides high gas prices and spending), although there was a lot of close calls. My situation, however, was not as dramatic as McDowell- I wasn’t quite homeless, but I did move really often due to finances, and I didn’t live in ritzy nice neighborhoods, either. It was always embarrassing telling people I lived elsewhere because I didn’t want to risk jail and school. I’ve always wondered what would happen if the school district did find out- I was an excelling student, my mother had 5 kids (by the time I entered) go through the same school district (my little sister joined 1 year after me, so that’s actually 5 kids in the district, so 4 kids will have graduated from the same school in 2013) so I’m wondering if that factored into the lack of action.
    As for McDowell’s consequences, this shows two ideas: the criminalization of poverty, and the messed up thing about our school system. I don’t understand how they thought that McDowell was supposed to figure out what school she can go to because she was homeless- how was she supposed to know which district she was eligible in if she doesn’t have a home? How can you abide by addresses if you don’t have an address? By arresting her because of the school issue, they are furthering proving that homelessness is a crime which can get you arrested for not knowing where to turn, in a society that allows it and an economic system that depends on prisons and crime. Also, from what the comments below says about the school district she was escaping: apparently, it’s a highly low income school. Who in the world would want to send their child to a “bad” school district when they themselves are homeless, and trying to prevent their kid from going through the same thing? I thought this was called good parenting! Not to mention the fact they’re probably spending more money sending her to 12 years in friggin prison than the money she “stole”. (how can you “steal” money you contribute to? That’s another flaw with the monetary system here- you can contribute but not get anything out of it? As for me, I still paid income taxes for schools while in school plus additional school fees. How is this “stealing”? ) Seriously, where’s the logic behind this arrest?
    Her being a women, of color, and homeless probably expanded the problem. The fact that she was charged with drugs crime seems to give them a more legit excuse to arrest her for not only the drug crime, but the school crime was well- the way this works is by seeing her as a “bad guy”, a “criminal” by doing drugs, then the rest of her actions can now become a crime, because look what a criminal she is, doing drugs! I believe the overall crime was nothing more than a hidden warning to black poor mothers doing the exact same thing (as my mom did), so the striking apartheid and poverty of our school systems can stay legit.

  2. Andy Hou

    It is judicially absurd for McDowell to be put into prison for her sympathetic decision in enrolling her kid in a presumably better school. I can’t logically figure out how this behavior resulted in her misconduct of stealing educational services. I agree that it is an illegitimate behavior of McDowell by using a babysitter’s address to acquire the eligibility of her son enrolling in Norwalk School base on her proof of address that she revealed. However, this seemingly desperate attempt to place her son in a more qualitative school wouldn’t resulted in McDowell been accused of violating the law at the severity of required to be incarcerated up to a decade. Because this is merely a racist remark that the judicial branch has given to escalate the severity of punishment on African Americans.

    Ironically, how did McDowell’s accusation of stealing educational services coincided with her pleaded guilty to four counts of drug possession and sale charges? Has she been arrested prior to her verdict on stealing educational services? More clarifications can be shown if there is evidence of her previous misdemeanor on violation of other laws that have contributed to her current repulsive reprimand. The whole article is comprised of ambiguity and suspicion for me as a reader. What exactly justified McDowell been stealing from public services and other substantiated evidences that could led to the judges not condoning her for what should be considered a sympathetic act?

  3. Laura Tully

    Kadeja thank you for sharing your experience! I completely agree with you that they used the drug crimes to legitimize and I’m sure expedited her criminalization. I also agree that it wasn’t a coincidence that she is a Woman of Color. Kadeja, I also love how you ended with “I believe the overall crime was nothing more than a hidden warning to black poor mothers doing the exact same thing (as my mom did), so the striking apartheid and poverty of our school systems can stay legit”.
    This got me thinking- as I know nothing about the east coast or Connecticut I thought it would be informative for me to plug in Norwalk, CT (where she enrolled her son in school) and Bridgeport, CT (where they say her son should have attended school) into the “Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks” website. I wasn’t surprised when the city of Norwalk has and overwhelmingly higher income rate than Bridgeport, where the majority income rate is $21,679.90 or less. It made me wonder if they authorities are attempting to “protect” their middle to upper class community. That led me to wonder the demographics of the two cities. Norwalk is 73% white population, 15% African American and 15% Latino whereas Bridgeport is 45% white, 30% African American, and 31% Latino. So perhaps this is mostly about the “protection” of their precious white community from this “criminal” single mother who is not coincidentally a woman of Color. It seems like a way to legally maintain segregation.

  4. ZC

    Again, Kadeja, thank you for sharing your story. It is interesting for me to think about how the School-to-Prison pipeline not only affects children, but also their parents–how the effects are disproportionate along the lines of race, homelessness, etc. In every sense this issues become nonsensical and it is clear the the state is entirely an institution shrouded in white supremacy. Aside from what my peers have said about the inherent uneven distribution of resources between the two CT schools and the racialization of the “good” school and the “bad” school, how does putting a mother in prison for five years impact her son? Indeed, it reinforces a system in which the children of incarcerated individuals are more likely to be funnelled into prison themselves. When McDowell was trying to give her son that which might improve his life chances, she posed a threat to the white supremacist state, and was locked up. I’m stunned by the same quote of Kadeja’s, this is a warning necessary to legitimate a system that relies deeply on “apartheid” and “poverty.”

  5. Kat Martinez

    I agree with Kadeja that this is the blatant criminalization of poverty, and I also wonder, “how can you “steal” money you contribute to?” Placing this mother in prison is perpetuating the elitist ideals that create a white supremacist school system. The public school system is not created to help children excel, though there are many teachers and efforts that are in this system trying to do so. I am enraged that this mother is being blamed for working to bring her son the education that is required by law, and that is taken for granted by so many people who receive great education without a second thought.

  6. Brittany

    This makes me so upset on so many levels! Maybe if the state already had proper educational services in place to begin with she would not be committing this “crime”. Why should she have to pay back money for an education for her child (that should be free in the first place)? What address would the state have preferred her to use while she was homeless? Who knows if actually admitting that she was homeless would have resulted in her child being taken away as well…As Kadeja said this is simply the “criminalization of poverty”, providing people in similar situations with few options that won’t lead them to a jail cell. I’m sure that had this been a white womyn the media would have covered this in a completely different manner and a much bigger uproar would have occurred. Tanya McDowell knew where the better schools were and was simply trying to provide her son with a better education.

  7. Charlii Smith

    Similarly with Kadeja when I first moved down here, I lived in Inglewood (“ghetto to some people”) and in an unsafe neighborhood. My mother would drive 45 minutes to an hour to get out of that neighborhood and into a school district that had a better education program to suit my needs. The difference is I used my manager’s address and she lived in the the district. At the end of fourth grade we had to write our address on something and I slipped up by accident. We were caught. Fortunately that same week my father had documentation that we had bought a house in the district. But let me tell you … I was terrified … I HATE stories like this …

    Moving on to her story , it makes me wonder if she was not charged for drugs, would she have been given 5 years.. All she was doing was trying to provide just like Brittany had mentioned as well. Furthermore, I feel like the judge had to go digging to find more evidence and more of a reason to add on years and more charges.

    Lastly, it makes me feel TERRIBLE that her son now views her as a criminal. Solely because of the publicity behind this action. In a way I believe he should look at his mother as a hero. Hopefully at some point one day he’ll only thank her for trying to provide the best.


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