Homeless child enrolled in wrong school: What should happen to him?
Connecticut resident Tanya McDowell is charged with intentionally enrolling her son in the wrong school district. But homeless advocates wonder why the son has now changed schools, since federal law is supposed to protect his 'best educational interest.'
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The Norwalk Public Schools issued a press release saying that Ms. McDowell’s son was enrolled in September based on a residency affidavit stating that she and her son lived in Norwalk. The district did not initiate any proceeding to remove him from the elementary school nor request reimbursement after he left the school Jan. 14. It simply transferred records based on a request from a Bridgeport school that had been signed by McDowell, according to the press release.Skip to next paragraph
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Prosecutors say McDowell used a babysitter’s Norwalk address to enroll him in school. McDowell said her son went to the babysitter’s after school, according to press reports.
Louis Tallarita, Connecticut’s state coordinator of the McKinney-Vento Education of Homeless Children and Youth program, says he’s talked with the Norwalk homeless-student liaison and is satisfied with the district’s version of events.
He says it’s extremely uncommon for residency disputes to be pursued criminally and that in this case the school district had no say. “I am concerned that the professionals that are charged with public education in the school district would not be given the authority or the opportunity to deal with this issue involving the best interest of a child in their district,” Tallarita says.
Tallarita has asked Norwalk school officials to review their practices related to homeless students to see if any improvements need to be made. He’s also talked to the homeless liaison in Bridgeport, who plans to reach out to McDowell and her son now that news about the criminal case has alerted them to his unstable living situation.
If McDowell stayed at a shelter, the shelter should have been in touch with the school district to ensure the child’s educational needs were being met, Duffield suggests.
In Connecticut, 2,760 students were identified as homeless in 2009-10.
Echoes of Ohio case
The McDowell case resonates with civil rights advocates much as the case of Kelley Williams-Bolar did. Ms. Williams-Bolar, also an African-American, served nine days in jail in Ohio earlier this year for falsifying documents to enroll her children in a wealthier and safer school district.
Williams-Bolar wanted to attend an event in support of McDowell this week, but a judge would not allow her to travel, according to a blog post on ThyBlackMan.com.
McDowell is now being represented by a lawyer from the local chapter of the NAACP. Neither the NAACP lawyer nor the prosecutor could be reached for comment.
McDowell is due in court May 11 to face the larceny charges. Her lawyers have said they plan to request a change of venue. She will also face at that time a drug charge pending since November. According to the Stamford Advocate, she has a criminal record.
• Associated Press material was used in this report.