Earlier this year, the case of†Kelley Williams-Bolar, a single mother of two, made national headlines after she†was†charged with a third-degree felony and sentenced to ten days in prison.†Her crime: Wanting to make sure her children had a safe place to attend school.
In 2006,†after her home in a housing project in Akron was burglarized, Williams-Bolar decided to send her children to†school in†the suburban Copley-Fairlawn district, where her father was living; she said that she and her daughters were living part-time with him. But the Copley-Fairlawn school district hired a private investigator and discovered she was living at least part of the time in Akron. Williams-Bolar was asked to pay $30,000 in back tuition; she refused and was convicted of falsifying her residency records.†Williams-Bolar was ordered to serve a suspended sentence of ten days and was released on January 18, one day early, after being given credit for time served, she was jailed immediately following her 2009 arrest. She was also†given two years of probation and 80 hours of community service.
In February, the charges of grand theft were dismissed against Williams-Bolar and Ohio Governor John Kasich asked the Ohio Parole Board to review her felony conviction.†Williams-Bolar had been working as a special education teaching assistant and had no prior criminal record but, unless the felony is eliminated from her record, she will be unable to get a teaching certificate under Ohio law.
As reported on Babble, September 2, the Ohio Parole Board, after reviewing Williams-Bolar’s case, has recommended that she not be pardoned. According to the Associated Press, the Board said that she “could have solved her schooling situation legitimately and was dishonest before and after her conviction”:
ďMs. Williams-Bolar was faced with a no more difficult situation than any other working parent who must ensure that their children are safe during, before and after school hours in their absence,Ē it said in its unanimous ruling. ďMost parents find legitimate and legal options to address this issue. Ms. Williams-Bolarís only response was to be deceitful.Ē
The board also rejected Williams-Bolarís arguments that her conviction harmed her future plans, noting that she has hardly made the efforts necessary to obtain a degree to teach.
Summit County chief assistant prosecutor Brad Gessner also told the board that Williams-Bolar had “options when school officials questioned her about her residency but instead changed her address on her driverís license and bank and employment documents.”
In July, Williams-Bolar had told the board that she was remorseful for lying and, if given the chance, would have taken different actions. “I love my kids and I would have done anything for my children,Ē she said at the hearing.
For the time being, Williams-Bolar is working as a teacherís assistant at Akron public schools. Williams-Bolarís older daughter is now attending a public high school in Akron while her younger daughter attends a private middle school on a voucher. It’s up to Governor Kasich to decide her case. As Babble points out, Governor Kasich is himself a big proponent of school vouchers and has “used the case to highlight expanded access to educational alternatives, including vouchers”; Williams-Bolar’s case has become a “rallying point for advocates of school choice”. The parole board indeed asked if Williams-Bolar had considered vouchers.
But Williams-Bolar’s case really isn’t just about vouchers and school choice but about much broader issues.
What the parole board didnít ask was why Williams-Bolar just didnít move into the school district and make it legit. Is it because itís too expensive? Why didnít she try for state subsidized public housing in that area? Is it because there isnít public housing in the good school districts? Well, why not? Whether you think her punishment was too severe or right on, thatís the question we should be asking. Why donít poor people have guaranteed access to good schools? Why do good public schools get to be exclusive? And why is it so often people of color, like Williams-Bolar and her girls, who face these exclusions?
Finding herself with simply few choices, Williams-Bolar did what she could — at a terrible price — to give her daughters a chance for a better education and future. She has admitted her mistakes and served time in jail for them, and there is no issue now with her children’s school situation. Isn’t it time for the state of Ohio to let go of the case against Williams-Bolar?
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