Mom Sentenced To Jail For Seeking A Better Education For Her Children

Have you ever known anyone who sent their children to a neighboring school district and used a relative's address to qualify them? It happens here all the time, because an adjacent high school is on a block schedule, which many parents like better

kelly-williams-bolar.jpg
Have you ever known anyone who sent their children to a neighboring school district and used a relative's address to qualify them? It happens here all the time, because an adjacent high school is on a block schedule, which many parents like better than the 6-period schedule in our own school district. However, I have yet to see any parent sent to jail for it.

But this is California, not Ohio. And in Ohio, if you're a single mom living in the projects who is going to school yourself to earn a teaching credential in order to make a better life for you and the kids, you might consider enrolling them in the district where your father lives, because that district has a terrific rating and great test scores. And if you did that, and got caught, you might be convicted of felonies and receive a jail sentence. For trying to get a better education for your kids.

[Kelly Williams-Bolar] is a single mother with two girls, ages 12 and 16, and is only a few credit hours short of graduating from the University of Akron with a teaching degree. She was working as a teaching assistant with special needs children at Buchtel High School. She also cared for her ailing father, who was charged with multiple felonies in the residency case.

Williams-Bolar was convicted of the two felony counts Saturday night after seven hours of jury deliberations.

On Tuesday, Cosgrove sentenced her to five years in prison but suspended all but 10 days in the county jail, saying that to not include time behind bars would ''demean the seriousness'' of the offenses.

She also was given two years of probation and 80 hours of community service.

In addition, her (ailing) father was charged with grand theft for allowing Williams-Bolar to use his address when the girls didn't live there. Prosecutors claim it cost the Copley-Fairlawn school district $30,500 for the girls' education at their school with no tax base supporting their attendance.

Which leads me to ask why it is that there was no offsetting charge for what their education could have cost in their home district? Either it should have washed, or else there's some inequity in the two districts. Perish the thought.

At first, the judge was the target of everyone's blame for what is clearly an outrageous miscarriage of justice. But reading further, it seems to be the fault of the prosecutor, the investigating officers and perhaps most especially the superintendent of schools for the Copley-Fairlawn district.

Ohio.com:

[Judge] Cosgrove said the county prosecutor's office refused to consider reducing the charges to misdemeanors, and that all closed-door talks to resolve the case — outside of court — met with failure.

Kelley Williams-Bolar, 40, was sentenced Tuesday to 10 days in jail after a jury convicted her of two felony counts of tampering with records.

Cosgrove said numerous pretrial hearings were held since last summer.

''The state would not move, would not budge, and offer Ms. Williams-Bolar to plead to a misdemeanor,'' the judge said in an interview Wednesday.

And it gets creepier, when you see how far they went to investigate and prosecute her. Via the local ABC News station, Newsnet5:

Prosecutors said Williams-Bolar lived in Akron, but falsified enrollment papers in the Copley-Fairlawn School District so her two girls could attend schools for two years.

Prosecutors said the lies cost the district about $30,000. Copley-Fairlawn does not have open enrollment and out-of-district tuition is about $800 per month.

The school district spent about $6,000 to bring the case to trial. That included hiring a private investigator who followed Williams-Bolar and her children around while secretly videotaping their movements.

Superintendent Brain Poe said Copley-Fairlawn has lost hundreds of thousand of dollars because of parents illegally enrolling their children into the schools.

The article goes on to say that this is the very first time anyone has ever been brought up on felony charges for sending their kids out of district. Do you think it's coincidence that they brought those charges against a black woman sending her black children to a white, affluent, successful school? Were they afraid those children would bring down the property values or the test scores? Or both?

This makes me shaky-angry. The kind of angry where I want to walk out onto my front porch and scream at 2 am as I write this. The kind of angry that keeps me awake at night. Every child in this country should have the right to a good education, but they don't. And when a parent takes desperate steps to ensure they have a good education while caring for an ailing parent and going to school herself, a jail sentence is not the answer. Ever.

You shouldn't ever go to jail for sending your kids to school. That's all. But as angry as I am, it doesn't even come near what anger must feel like among the black community. Here's Elon James White, writing for Salon:

To judge this simply as a case of fraud is to ignore the surrounding circumstances. Some say that, legally speaking, "circumstances" don't matter. But if you murder someone they specifically have to figure out if it was a crime of passion, was it self-defense or was it premeditated. Each crime receives wildly different sentences. The bottom line is that a person is dead. But somehow that's not black and white. They say Williams-Bolar was judged by a jury of her peers. Was she really? Was it a group of poor minorities trying to finally have a chance at the supposed American dream? Were these "peers" people whose families have tried for generations to rise from the injustice and inequalities that they -- literally -- had nothing to do with?

Show me these "peers."

I'm not saying Kelley Williams-Bolar was right. I'm not saying she shouldn't have to pay what she owes to the local government. I'm saying to make an example of a poor mother with a family on her first offense is unconscionable. To think this reasonable is to ignore the reality that we live in and the shades of right and wrong that appear in so many offenses.

By the way, America stole a lot of labor from my people. Are we going to get any of that "owed" money any time soon? No? Didn't think so.

Dr. Boyce Watkins:

Third, I’m not sure why the court is treating this law-abiding mom like a thug who ran into a building with a shotgun and robbed the district of $30,000. Instead, they could simply subtract the amount it costs for her kids to go to the second school from the amount that would be spent for them to attend the first one. I’m sure the difference would still be substantial, since American educational apartheid dictates that schools in poorer neighborhoods are of significantly less quality than other schools. The racial divisions within American schools are nothing less than a blatant and consistent human rights violation and should certainly be treated as such.

[...]

This case is a textbook example of everything that remains racially wrong with America’s educational, economic and criminal justice systems. Let’s start from the top: Had Ms. Williams-Bolar been white, she likely would never have been prosecuted for this crime in the first place (I’d love for them to show me a white woman in that area who’s gone to jail for the same crime). She also is statistically not as likely to be living in a housing project with the need to break an unjust law in order to create a better life for her daughters. Being black is also correlated with the fact that Williams-Bolar likely didn’t have the resources to hire the kinds of attorneys who could get her out of this mess (since the average black family’s wealth is roughly 1/10 that of white families). Finally, economic inequality is impactful here because that’s the reason that Williams-Bolar’s school district likely has fewer resources than the school she chose for her kids. In other words, black people have been historically robbed of our economic opportunities, leading to a two-tiered reality that we are then imprisoned for attempting to alleviate. That, my friends, is American Racism 101.

You bet it is. If ever there were a case where a Presidential pardon would be in order, this is one. I'm still creeped out about this school district hiring private detectives and videotaping the movements of 2 girls and their mother. It takes a sick kind of racist jerk to authorize that for school attendance.

And just to add insult to injury, prosecutors have the option of retrying this woman's father and Williams-Bolar on the grand theft charges. What a great way to hold an anvil over their heads. I keep trying to reach for the right set of words to express just how ugly this situation is, but they're not there. It's a situation that exceeds my vocabulary. It's despicable.

Brian Poe is the Superintendent of Copley-Fairlawn CSD. Here's what he says in an interview last week:

BP: We worked with the family for more than two years. It started before I became superintendent. There was a residency hearing and a significant amount of communication.

Patch: Have there been similar incidents, students who are enrolled illegally?

BP: My best estimate is that over the last three years there have been about 50 incidents. In about 99 percent of those cases we find a way to work with the family. Sometimes they pay tuition, sometimes they voluntarily withdraw.

Patch: How do you know where your students live?

BP: Every family completes a residency affadavit. They present identification, utility bills and other proof of residency.

Patch: You have three full-time investigators looking into allegations related to improper enrollment. How do they decide who to look into?

BP: The investigators respond to tips. Sometimes students turn other students in. Sometimes parents call, sometimes a communication we have with a family turns up a red flag.

Patch: Recently one of your investigators retired from his police job and pleaded guilty to using a police database to research residency of parents in your district. Was that officer investigating this case?

BP: No, and we were not involved in that investigation.

Patch: I understand you sometimes charge parents for back tuition. Will you file a civil suit against Williams-Bolar?

BP: That's an option.

The school attendance police. The 21st century equivalent of the KKK? What a crock.

Update: Here's some facts, figures, and a bigger picture of exactly how Copley-Fairlawn keeps their lily-white reputation. Also, Change.org has a petition you can sign.

About karoli

karoli's picture
Card-carrying member of we, the people.

Comments

We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.