How Poor Parents Are Being Criminalized For Being Poor Parents
It seems like parenting is getting a whole lot tougher these days. Not only do you have to make sure the youngins’ are fed, clean and clothed properly but you also have to worry about going to jail over getting your child an education. Glad I have pets.
First is the story of a homeless Black mother in Connecticut, who was found guilty of stealing $15,000 in educational services. Tanya McDowell, who was living between her van and homeless shelters, was charged with felony larceny last year after she lied about her address to make her six-year-old son eligible to attend kindergarten in a better district. McDowell pled guilty to the accusation and was sentenced to twelve years in prison. While the sentence also includes a seven year bid for four charges of drug possession McDowell is also required to pay a $6,200 fine in restitution.
McDowell’s case has attracted lots of support from education and civil rights advocates who argued for compassion for a homeless mother. However the school district, the prosecutor of the case and finally the juror believe that she should have been required to send him to school in the city of her last permanent address. The case is also reminiscent of Kelley Williams-Bolar, who too was convicted last year of lying about her residency to get her daughters into a better school district in Ohio. Williams-Bolar was sentenced to two consecutive five-year prison bids. However after public pressure, that sentence was reduced and William-Bolar only spent 10 days in jail, five years of probation and was ordered to perform 80 hours of community service.
Both cases involved the so-called illegal falsification of residence in order to obtain thousands of dollars in educational benefits. However both stories also illustrate how increasingly hostile our public school system is, which presumably is supposed to be free for all American children (paid for by federal funds through our taxes dollars).
More and more, we are seeing stories about how Black and low income parents have been criminalized. Like how last year, more than 400 Baltimore parents had received notification that they would face a District Court judge as a result of charges filed by the school system’s Office of Attendance and Truancy. And in my home state of Pennsylvania, where the NAACP and the Public Inter Law Center of Philadelphia filed a federal lawsuit against the Lebanon School District for imposing excessive and illegal fines of up to $300 per incident on truant children or their families. One parent in particular was ordered to pay $27,000 and a 17-year-old student was fined more than $12,000.