At least 26 Connecticut students were kicked out of their Norwalk public school for illegally enrolling by using a phony home address, a district spokesman told FoxNews.com. But none of the parents involved will face legal charges, even though a homeless Norwalk mother was criminally charged last month for the same offense, according to the official.
Bruce Morris, human relations officer with Norwalk Public Schools, said Friday that the students were forced to withdraw from their public school after it was found they were not legal residents of the city.
“We determined that 26 of them, per residency requirements, were not eligible to remain in those schools,” Morris said in an interview. “Our standard process is that when those things happen, we disenroll the student.”
Morris noted that the families involved will not be criminally prosecuted because the school handles such investigations internally and does not report them to the police.
But that decision has outraged civil rights advocates. Tanya McDowell, a 33-year-old homeless woman whose last known address was in Bridgeport, Conn., was arrested in April after it was found she illegally enrolled her 6-year-old son in a Norwalk public school.
McDowell faces charges of larceny and conspiracy to commit larceny for allegedly stealing $15,686 from Norwalk schools. Prosecutors allege that figure is the value of her son's education at Norwalk's Brookside Elementary School between the time he was illegally enrolled in January and McDowell's arrest on April 14. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison.
“It’s absolutely not fair,” Gwen Samuel, founder of the Connecticut Parents Union, told FoxNews.com. “They should dismiss Tanya’s case.”
Morris argued that McDowell’s case is different because it “was handled outside of the school district.”
“Her case was referred by the Norwalk Housing Authority to the police to the prosecutor,” he said. “We [the school district] never report this to the police … We would not prosecute criminally.”
That explanation, however, doesn’t sit well with others, including Samuel.
“For the school district to just blindly turn away and say we didn’t do it so our hands are tied is outrageous," Samuel said.
“If those are the education experts running our system, we should all be concerned,” she said. Samuel is calling upon state lawmakers to repeal legislation that criminalizes actions by parents who seek to obtain a better education for their children.
In an interview with The Hour newspaper, Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling said McDowell’s case was “unusual” because the investigation originated with the Norwalk Housing Authority and not with the school.
"It was a crime that was reported to the police and investigated by one of our detectives," Rilling told the newspaper. "It's a first in Norwalk, to my knowledge, but similar situations have unfolded with regularity in other communities."
But Rilling acknowledged that future cases should not be handled by the police department as McDowell’s had been.
"It is really the responsibility of the Board of Education to determine how these situations are managed," he said. "We do not usually get involved in these investigations."
FoxNews.com's Cristina Corbin and Joshua Rhett Miller contributed to this report