The woman has committed no crime. The prosecutor should be shot for concocting such a stupidly trumped up charge.
Actually she did. At least according to current laws.
In the USA, publicly funded schooling is compulsory for all children. Usually between the ages of 5 and 18 although the exact years may vary slightly depending on which State you reside in. (In the USA, public education is still mostly regulated by State rather than federal law.)
So why do some people consider what this woman did as being criminal?
In Connecticut, public education is funded out of collected property taxes. The state sets a minimum annual expenditure per student for education. Local municipalities may spend as much over that minimum as they like however. So the bigger the town's property tax base (i.e. the wealthier it is) the better funded the schools should be. At least in theory. Although that's pretty much the case in practice too.
My town just finished building a new elementary and middle school. And extensively renovating one of it's three high schools. Total cost was in excess of $1 billion dollars. And that has not included additional millions spent on expanding and renovating its 14 other schools. We currently have: 10 elementary, 3 middle schools, and 2 standard + 1 alternative high school. The proposed annual school budget for 2012-13 is just shy of $150 million to service a student population of about 9,300 students.
The schools are well equipped, well maintained, and have (for the most part) a competent and dedicated staff of teachers working in them. Student to teacher ratio is about: 18:1 for elementary; 12:1 for middle; and 10:1 for high school.
Needless to say, my town is a good place to send your kid for public schooling. So much so that houses and rentals command a premium price because they get you access to this school system.
Unfortunately, our property tax assessments can also cause nosebleed. But even that isn't an issue for many residents. I heard a parent of school children once state (at an open town budget meeting) that she didn't care if the taxes doubled. Because it would still be a bargain. She had four kids in public school, and had worked out that buying all four a comparable private education would cost her in excess of $40K per year. When asked if she would still feel the same way once her kids were out of school, she said in a serious voice, "Oh, I won't care. As soon as my youngest is finished with high school my husband and I plan on moving."
In a nutshell, my town has put itself in the education business. Something which has pretty much split the town into two political groups: those with school children who are benefiting from high property taxes; and those without who aren't - but are still required to pay them.
And this is generally the case throughout this region. Education budgets and budget hearings are often very contentious political issues in these parts.
This situation is further exacerbated by the fact that many municipalities (my town is one) don't allow the taxpayers to directly vote on the school budget. The taxpayers only get to elect the School Board. The School Board itself is who gets to vote on the school budget. (Note: in towns that do have public voting on the school budgets it's not uncommon for there to be four or five separate votes before a budget finally gets passed. It's enough of a problem that several municipalities are trying to change their local laws to no longer allow a public voting on school budgets.)
And into this political firestorm comes Ms.Tanya McDowell. She lies about her place of residence in order to enroll her son in school in a town where she isn't a legal resident - an act which is a direct violation of existing law. A law that up until recently wasn't taken too seriously
because most people felt it was always better to have a kid attending school than worry about where
he attended it.
But with worries about a diminishing economy, increasing unemployment, high taxes, and a less humane attitude on the part of many people, Tanya McDowell's fib became a lodestone for all the frustrations people had about funding a very expensive educational system. So she got selected to be the poster child for what can happen to you when you break the rules about where you send your child to school.
This might have been resolved quietly, with some token penalty once the furor died down. Most people didn't want to see her punished all that much if at all. They just wanted a message sent that what she did was not acceptable.
But unfortunately, certain community and political factions picked up on her case, weighed in, and turned it into a debate about race, privilege, and inequalities in the public education system. Then the NAACP got involved. Next Al Sharpton showed up. And in the meantime, her story had become national
news. After all that, nobody involved was about to back down. There was too much "face" at stake to do otherwise.So...did Tanya McDowell break the law?
Yes, she did. Was she convicted of what she was charged with?
she was not. She plead under the Alford Doctrine - that weird little legal fiction that allows you to plead guilty while still maintaining you are innocent. This is the so called "I'm guilty but I didn't do it!" plea.How stiff a sentence did she receive?
12 years, suspended after 5 years served. Plus she was ordered to pay "up to" $6200 reimbursement to the City of Norwalk where he son was attending school.Was that sentence just for sending her child to the wrong school?No
. Once you read past the headlines you'll discover her twelve year sentence also included time for her guilty plea on four separate counts of possession and sale of drugs.Did she deserve to go to jail?
Purely on the charge of sending her kid to school where she shouldn't have? I personally don't think so. And neither does anybody else I've talked to.
As far as the drug possession and sale charges go, reaction is mixed. Almost everybody I talked to thought 12 years was very harsh, but that automatically suspending it after 5 actual years served was reasonable. I still think it's a little heavy. But I'm dubious about the value and effectiveness of incarcerating people for long periods of time unless they've committed an act of extreme violence and we're concerned they'll do it again if released. But that's just me.