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Supporters Rally Behind Homeless Woman Arrested For Sending Son To Norwalk School

NORWALK, Conn. (CBSNewYork) -- Imagine being arrested for sending your child to the school of your choice. That's what happened to a homeless mother who faces felony charges and 20 years in prison if convicted.

CBS 2's Lou Young has the story of a mother's battle to give her son a good education.

"I didn't do anything wrong. All I want is the best for my son," Tanya McDowell said.

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After living in a Norwalk homeless shelter, McDowell thought she'd earned her son a sliver of stability in a good elementary school. The City of Norwalk, however, disagrees.

"Everything came as a complete shock, total shock. Unbelievable," McDowell said.

McDowell was arrested and charged with theft of services after she moved out of the shelter to stay with a friend temporarily in Bridgeport. Her son was kicked out of the Norwalk school and she is now criminal defendant.

"It makes me feel like I let him down, the system failed him. Who could tell a 5-year-old little boy like they don't want you over there? They kick you out due to certain circumstances of not having a fixed address," McDowell said.

"We know it's no dispute that she lived in a homeless shelter here in Norwalk for nine months, and I don't think anybody goes to a homeless shelter and lives knowing what goes on in a homeless shelter to make a case for a kid to go to school," defense attorney Darnell Crosland said.

McDowell had her second appearance at the Norwalk Courthouse on Wednesday. Supporters presented the judge with a petition asking all charges be dismissed. There were 16,000 signatures.

"No matter what condition any person is in we want to make sure the parent has an opportunity for that child to get a good education," said Scott Esdaile of the Connecticut NAACP.

"This woman clearly doesn't have a stable address. They pulled the child out in mid-year. There is a federal law that should've protected her," supporter Gwen Samuels added.

If it's tough for adults to understand it's impossible for the mind of a child. The boy, A.J., recently asked his mom if she was accused of stealing his entire old school. She told him, no, it's not that at all. She hopes it'll be resolved when she goes to court again in June.

Prosecutors said the cost of an education for a student from out of the Norwalk district is $15,686 a year.

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