The same day a court declined to dismiss felony charges against a homeless woman accused of fraudulently enrolling her then 5-year-old son in a Norwalk school, Rev. Al Sharpton came to town to talk about equal education at an NAACP rally.
Tanya McDowell, 33, was arrested on April 14 after she enrolled her son A.J. at Brookside Elementary School, despite not having permanent residence in that town.
A Bridgeport resident at the time, McDowell said all she wanted was a good education for her son, and in a tearful statement during the rally she said, “if you ask me I’ll do it all over again because I didn’t do anything wrong.”
If found guilty she could face a maximum prison sentence of 20 years for the first degree larceny and conspiracy to commit larceny in the first degree.
Sharpton was unfamiliar with the specifics of the case involving McDowell, but noted the fundamental issue is a lack of equal education.
“If we cannot have equal opportunity at the beginning of life, we will never have equality in life,” said Sharpton. “The Civil Rights issue of the 21st century is education. Every child in American should have the right to a quality education.”
Declining to weigh in too much on McDowell’s case, Sharpton stated the future of the child was his concern and that no five-year old should not be a “pawn for politics.”
“That little boy didn’t do nothing to nobody and he deserves an education and so does every little boy and girl in the state of Connecticut,” said Sharpton. “We get so caught up in adult games that we sacrifice our children.”
Sharpton used an education tour with former congressmen Newt Gingrich as an example for how people should put their differences aside to lift up children.
“I don’t agree with anything with Newt Gingrich, he and I don’t even agree today is Tuesday, but we both agree everybody ought to be on the same page with education,” Sharpton said. “If Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton can tour on education then why can’t the people in Norwalk come together.”
The issue of equal education has been something people have fought for in the past and need to continue to fight, according to Sharpton.
“We fought in ‘54 for equal education, we are going to keep fighting in 2011 for equal education,” Sharpton said.
McDowell’s attorney Darnell Crosland, who also serves as the second vice president of the Norwalk’s NAACP chapter, noted the case demonstrates the need equal justice and that it’s not everyday someone is arrested for theft of education.
Twenty-six children were removed from Norwalk schools over the past year for registering false addresses, according to Rep. Bruce Morris, D-Norwalk. However, none were criminally prosecuted for theft of educational services.
Morris told the Stamford Advocate state statutes need to be amended to prevent such cases from being prosecuted as felonies. They should instead be civil matters left in the hands of local school boards, Morris said, arguing it is also a wiser use of taxpayer money.
Members of the NAACP’s Norwalk Chapter who spoke Tuesday, including first Vice President Shirley Mosby, agreed no parent should be prosecuted for trying to give their child a better education.
Mosby said what needs to be done is what is best for the child, which she noted does not include throwing the mother in jail.
“What is going to happen to that child; 20 years that mother could be in prison and that child is thrown into the system,” said Mosby. “Now you have created something else in the system.”
Members from NAACP chapters across the state came out to support the Norwalk chapter and McDowell in the pursuit of equal education; among them was the state’s NAACP president Scot X. Esdaile.
“We’re trying to make education equitable for everyone in the United States,” said Esdaile. “It starts in small valleys like this and creates a movement that sweeps the nation.”
This is not the first case where parents illegally enrolled students in the Norwalk school system, according to Esdaile, who noted that in most cases they were only asked to dis-enroll.
“In the end it is about the children,” said Mosby. “And equal education is the key.”