Kelley Williams-Bolar On NPR: Out Of Jail, But Still Derailed

Kelley Williams-Bolar, the mom sentenced to jail for sending her children to an adjacent school district, is now out of jail, but her story is far from over. In the NPR interview above, she talks about why she sent her children where she did, and
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Kelley Williams-Bolar, the mom sentenced to jail for sending her children to an adjacent school district, is now out of jail, but her story is far from over. In the NPR interview above, she talks about why she sent her children where she did, and why she believed she was entitled. Her father is a homeowner in the Copley-Fairlawn School District (which means he is also a taxpayer). Look at the timeline of how events unfolded, as laid out in this interview:

  • 2006 - Williams-Bolar's home is robbed and trashed.
  • September, 2006 - Williams-Bolar enrolls her daughters in the Copley-Fairlawn schools using her father's address. To comply with district requirements, she applies for a grandparents' Power of Attorney, which the district has told her will meet the requirements for her daughters to attend school in their district.
  • June, 2008 - The court denies the grandparent's Power of Attorney because the biological father of the girls did not sign off on it.
  • June, 2008 - At the end of the school year, Williams-Bolar withdraws her daughters from the Copley-Fairlawn school district.
  • December, 2010 - Charges are brought against her by the District Attorney, and in January, 2011 she is prosecuted for Grand Theft.

Here are a couple of uncontested facts:

  1. While the girls were enrolled in the Copley-Fairlawn School District, Williams-Bolar was operating on the belief that she had complied with residency requirements by getting the required grandparent's Power of Attorney.
  2. When that Power of Attorney was denied by the court, Williams-Bolar withdrew her children from the district.
  3. Williams-Bolar's children did stay at their grandfather's house. That's not in dispute. The only question is what their legal residence was for purposes of school attendance.

Here's another fact: The prosecutor in this case is dead-determined to nail Williams-Bolar and her father to the wall for this. What's interesting to me is to watch how they do it. After seeing the rolling wave of public outcry to her prosecution, the Summit County DA's office actually published a FAQ about the case on their official website. Among other things, there are multiple references to "her fraud".

And then there's this: This same prosecutor released taped telephone conversations Williams-Bolar had with family and friends while in jail. There was only one reason to release these snippets, which are helpfully excerpted at Ohio.com, and that is to make Williams-Bolar appear to be a money-grubbing grifter who was always in it for the publicity and possibility of a movie deal.

Evidently the prosecutor doesn't understand the concept of dealing with adversity through humor. Or telling the whole story. Some telephone calls have been withheld, supposedly to use against her father when they prosecute him. Who wants to bet there won't be any phone calls from jail used in that trial? Ten bucks, right now.

There is a bit of good news to tell: The superintendent of Akron schools says she can come back to her job as a teacher's aide. Whether or not she'll ever have a chance to be a teacher? Well, that's something else entirely. In the meantime, the felony charges against her father will proceed.

Contrast the crusade against Williams-Bolar with another Ohio family, the Ebners

Mark Ebner is a resident of Columbus, Ohio. He owns a home in that area valued at more than $1 million, but he rented an apartment in the Bexley school district and says that is where his children live. His wife lives in the big house, according to Mr. Bexley; he and the boys live in the 3-bedroom apartment in the Bexley school district.

The district was suspicious, so they hired someone to tail him, just like the Copley-Fairlawn district did to Williams-Bolar. Here's what the investigator discovered:

The investigator hired by the district watched the apartment and the house 14 times in April and May. His report to the district said he saw Ebner come or go on occasion but never Julian. The investigator concluded that Ebner and his family spent most of their time at the house, not the apartment.

In June, the private investigator watched Ebner again. He saw him at the house in a T-shirt and sweat pants and that he left later in a dress shirt and tie. Bexley's attorney concluded that Ebner had "abandoned all pretense of living" at the apartment by then because school was nearly out for the summer.

"It strains credulity to suggest - as the Ebners have done here - that Mr. Ebner voluntarily lives in a small apartment while maintaining a very comfortable family residence nearby," school district attorney Gregory B. Scott told the state Education Department in a letter.

The state rarely steps in to settle a residency dispute. It did so only four times in 2008 and once so far in 2009. In Ebner's case, Delisle sided with Bexley.

"Mr. Ebner has submitted very little documentation supporting his claimed residency at the Bexley address," Delisle's ruling said.

Why didn't Mr. Ebner go to jail? Well, they hired a lawyer and fought back. And won, by swapping around houses with another family member. Because that family member had a house. And they all had the money to do that. All in the family only works if you have money and are the right color, evidently.

Race aside, there is too much inequality in our education system

Cynthia at K-12 News Network:

That parent, being white, male, and wealthy, didn’t spend any jail time but instead sued the Bexley school district which had hired a private investigator to have him tailed, much like Copley-Fairlawn had an investigator follow Ms. Williams-Bolar.

And the Ebners used the legal system to fight back, engaging in some complicated house-swapping and lease arrangements with relatives who live in the district to finally enable their two younger sons to attend Bexley District schools.

Where is the justice for Williams-Bolar, a divorced mom, woman of color, and person of much more modest means?

Other stories suggest that school residency fraud may be on the rise. See below. In which case, this is not an isolated case of one person who can’t seem to follow the rules or decides to treat school requirements like a scofflaw, this is a larger problem that reflects increasing desperation on the part of all parents to do what they can to make sure their children attend good schools.

She's got several other examples of residency fraud in her post. Her bottom line:

The solution is to make every existing school excellent and open to all. Stop heightening scarcity and unequal distribution of resources, and allowing racial and economic inequality to play out over real estate.

Making great public schools scarce is anti-democratic. It goes against what this great nation is about: America is about equality of opportunity, if not equality of circumstance. If we don’t address this issue, we’ll have invisible gated communities–minds and lives locked in according to the neighborhood where you live–and a quality education for just a few who can afford it. That’s not America…that’s how China works.

Totally agree. Also, let's start kicking prosecutors out of office who bully the accused with half-edited recordings of phone calls, and hammer people who can least afford it but who are trying to get ahead in this life with piles of felony charges for daring to want their children safe and educated.

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