Criminal Justice

Homeless Woman Charged with Theft for Enrolling Son in Norwalk, Conn., School to Enter Guilty Plea

A Bridgeport, Conn., woman charged in April with stealing more than $15,000 in funds from the Norwalk, Conn., school district for using her baby-sitter’s address in that city to get her son into school there will enter a guilty plea to those charges—as well as to two charges of sale of narcotics.

Darnell Crosland, said that his client, Tonya McDowell, maintains her innocence on the Norwalk charge but agreed to take the plea bargain rather than keep fighting, the Connecticut Post reported. Assistant State’s Attorney Michael DeJoseph told the Post that he is recommending a 5-year prison term for McDowell on the narcotics charges. Whatever sentence she receives on the larceny charges would be served concurrently, according to the plea bargain.

In January 2011, McDowell testified at her baby-sitter’s eviction hearing that she lived in Bridgeport, the Stamford Advocate reported at the time. This prompted a Norwalk Housing Authority lawyer to tell the state’s attorney’s office that she thought McDowell might be perpetrating a fraud. The New York Times reported at the time of McDowell’s initial not-guilty plea that McDowell would have been able to keep her son at his Norwalk elementary school if she were homeless, but that school officials said she never disclosed that. McDowell told the Times in April that she was living out of a van while her son stayed with relatives in Bridgeport.

Gwen Samuel, chairwoman of the Connecticut Parents Union, told the Post she was disappointed that McDowell pleaded guilty.

“You shouldn’t be arrested for stealing a free education,” Samuel said. Samuel planned to meet with Connecticut lawmakers this week to work on a reform of the state’s school residency law.

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