Conn. mom pleads not guilty over school enrollment

“He’s very curious in regards to it because he thinks I stole Brookside away from him, like I took it away from him,” said McDowell, who has a criminal record and faces pending drug charges in the same court handling the enrollment case.

Several parents picking up children at the school Wednesday afternoon expressed support for McDowell.

“If they were going to do it, they should have at least waited until the end of the school year if he was settled in and doing well here,” said Thomas Soltes, who was picking up his granddaughter. “It isn’t the child’s fault and he shouldn’t be penalized.”

Connecticut students can only attend public schools in the municipality where their parents or guardians reside, unless they go to a magnet school, charter schools or another district under a desegregation plan.

About 2,700 children in Connecticut public schools were listed last year as homeless, including many in temporary foster care or going through other custody or residency transitions.

Many school districts have residency investigators on staff or on call, though state Department of Education officials say they have never heard of an arrest in such a case.

McDowell’s case is not the nation’s first. Last year, a single mother from Ohio was convicted of a felony for using her father’s address to enroll her children in a suburban district rather than the larger, underperforming Akron district.

Gwen Samuel, one of McDowell’s supporters and founder of the Connecticut Parents Union, said she would do the same thing.

“I would use the janitor’s address to get my kid a good education; that’s not even negotiable,” said Samuel, of Meriden. “I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t do the same.”

McDowell would not comment on the specifics of her case Wednesday, but she has said that she did not believe she was doing anything wrong when she enrolled her son in Norwalk.

She said she splits her time between a Norwalk shelter and her van, occasionally sleeping at a friend’s Bridgeport apartment. Her son went to the baby sitter’s Norwalk apartment every day after school, she said.

Bridgeport’s heavily urban school district is about twice the size of Norwalk’s, though both sit within Connecticut’s wealthy Fairfield County. Bridgeport is significantly poorer: State figures show 95 percent of Bridgeport’s students qualify for free or reduced-lunch meals because of their family incomes, compared with less than one of every three Norwalk students. Norwalk also has significantly lower dropout rates and higher test scores.

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