Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mom Convicted of Felony for Sending Kids to the Wrong School District

The story of Kelley Williams-Bolar, the mother of two who was convicted of a felony and sent to jail for falsifying records so her kids could attend a safer school, has gotten a lot of traction online. One of the more interesting posts I've read on the story was by Dr. Boyce Watkins though, and I thought I'd share.

Dr. Watkins post focuses on the race of Williams-Bolar, but it is obvious that class is inseparable in this case. (Though the fact most of the poor in this country are people of color keeps race relevant to the discussion.)
When I read about this case, a few thoughts went through my mind. First, it’s clear that the court is trying to make Kelley Williams-Bolar into an example. Even the judge in the case, Patricia Cosgrove, said that her sentence was appropriate ''so that others who think they might defraud the school system perhaps will think twice.''

Secondly, it’s interesting how courts find it convenient to make someone into an example when they happen to be poor and black. I’d love to see how they prosecute wealthy white women who commit the same offense. Oh, I forgot: Most wealthy white women don’t have to send their kids to the schools located near the projects.

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.

A final interesting blow by Judge Cosgrove that reflects the experience of marginalized African Americans in the criminal justice system relates to Williams-Bolar’s quest to obtain a teaching degree. The single mother was in school studying to become a teacher so that she could create a better life for her girls. But that won’t happen for her family now, given that the judge has all but shut the door on her chance to fulfill her dream:

''Because of the felony conviction, you will not be allowed to get your teaching degree under Ohio law as it stands today,'' the judge said. ''The court's taking into consideration that is also a punishment that you will have to serve.''

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.

This case is also an example of how racial-inequality created during slavery and Jim Crow continues to cripple our nation to this day. There is no logical reason on earth why this mother of two should be dehumanized by going to jail and be left permanently marginalized from future economic and educational opportunities. Even if you believe in the laws that keep poor kids trapped in underperforming schools, the idea that this woman should be sent to jail for demanding educational access is simply ridiculous.
At the end of the day this woman broke the law so I understand the need to hold her accountable. The amount of other parents breaking similar laws doesn't really matter in that regard. But what I don't understand is why this is a felony. Would probation and a misdemeanor charge not have sufficed? Williams-Bolar's father was already paying taxes so the $30,000 dollars Williams-Bolar is said to owe also seems vastly inappropriate.

When you look at the state report card for Akron vs Copley-Fairlawn (both pdfs), you can see why this mother would do what she did. Copley meets the 26/26 state benchmark while Akron clocks in at 4/26. Four. And while Akron has similar amounts of white and black students (40% to 47% respectively), 84.4% are considered "economically disadvantaged." Unsurprisingly, it's completely opposite at Copley. Copley is not only 75% white, but only 14% are economically disadvantaged. To pretend these percentages don't matter is a bit naive and the fact these two schools are in the same county and less than ten miles apart is appalling. That's the true crime here.

Also, what kind of school hires a private investigator for something like this? How many resources were used in the evidence gathering and prosecution of this crime?

I want to add that the judge who sentenced Williams-Bolar sent a letter to the state board of education asking them not to "suspend Williams-Bolar's teaching assistant's license or any teaching license she might obtain in the future." But even though Williams-Bolar is only a few credit hours short of a teaching degree at the University of Akron, this sentence has taken her ability to provide for her family out of her hands and placed it with the whims of the school board. Let's hope they do the right thing.

Random facts:

American schools are more segregated by race and class today than they were on the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed, 43 years ago.

In Summit County, the KKK claimed to have fifty thousand members, making it the largest local chapter in the United States during the 1910s and 1920s.


  1. Sometimes I think the only reason there isn't an armed revolt is because poor people can't get the time off from work.

  2. Zikes !
    I am a product of the Ohio public school system. It was centuries ago, but it was Ohio.

    I sure hope there's a statute of limitations on this sort of crime. I did a very similar thing. I lived, literally, 200 yards past the school district line. My step-dad's parents, however, lived 3 miles North, in the district I wanted.

    I come from a rural area. The school I was supposed to attend was basically non-existent (had 25 students in my class). The school I desired is regional beacon of the Arts. The school was donated by a local millionaire in the 1920s (giving them, also, the lowest tax rate in the area). Reproductions of Greek statues lines the halls, spiral marble stairways flanked the main entrance. The pool resembles an opulent spa....suffice it to say, It was a top-notch institution, with a caring staff.

    Did I fudge my address to reflect my dad's parents house? You're FuckingA right I did !

    I remember, in the 90s, a lot of districts up there had an open enrollment policy, a student could enroll in any school in the county.

    As long as they could find transportation, I fail to see how this woman owes anything. she should be applauded for giving a damn about her kids, not demonized :(

    Can we keep this a secret, Alana? I don't want any of this getting out ;-)

  3. This is so wrong. There are literally thousands of parents who do this. Sometimes it's for academic reasons, others it's for sports reasons. The education system in this country is so fucked.

    My high school was the football school. The other high school was the academic school. My school was majority black. The academic school was majority white. The kids in my school wound up trying their hardest at their respective sport in effort to get scholarships for it to go to college. The other school got more attention for academic scholarships.

    Basically, not only do schools have to worry about being able to get funding for the kids that go there. They also have to worry about having an unfair amount of that money go towards sports (mostly male sports and mostly football).

    Parents shouldn't feel the need to break the damn law (and it shouldn't be a freaking felony, ffs) to get their children the education they deserve because they pay taxes in this country too.

    The only problem I see with changing school districts is that it has an impact. Standardized testing and other things that affect the school's funding will eventually drop. Schools preforming poorly have their funding cut. The high school in my current county encourages kids to drop out if they aren't going to graduate on time. When the kids hang around a few extra years or do poorly on the standardized testing, the school's overall performance average is lower, so they get less funding. It's like a chain reaction. Less funding, less children are successful, so they get less funding. The idea behind that is that the money would benefit the kids who are smarter better and would be wasted at the schools because they think the kids don't care. (sorry for the novel)

  4. Bret: Ha!

    Mac: I knew there was something shifty about you.

    Sarahbear: You basically summed up the entire problem with No Child Left Behind. Standardized testing should not be the ultimate measure and the carrot/stick idea is obviously not working.

  5. I agree with everything Sarahbear wrote.

    Where I grew up, they used to bus some of the kids from the "projects" into the predominantly white schools. Back then, I didn't understand why they would bother to bus kids in from another town, which would take over an hour on the bus. (I get it now.)

    The way they have it now in that county is that by a certain date, you have to turn in your top 3 school choices. They have a lottery where they randomly pick people to get their first choice, then a lottery for the second, and then third. If your kid starts out at one school, they'll stay in that school unless you put in for a different school the next year.

    Now, I don't live there anymore, so I don't know the validity of the lottery aspect, but it sounds like a pretty fair, nondiscriminatory way to do it. From what my friend says (she still lives there), if there's enough kids in your neighborhood going to the same school, the county will provide transportation. The kids might have a farther walk to the bus stop, but it's better than nothing. And they still have buses if you choose to have your child go to the school in your zone.

    I think what they did to this woman is absolutely terrible. She is a woman trying to better herself and the lives of her children. I get that she broke the law, but really? That was a harsh penalty. I hope a good lawyer with a good heart (don't laugh, I know there's gotta be at least one in Ohio!) decides to help her out and appeal the ruling.

    I agree the school system is fucked up, but I feel the problems run much deeper than that. For lack of a way to properly convey my thoughts on that, I'm just going to leave that statement be for now.

    Sorry if this comment is all jumbled. I've taken some cold medicine and my head is cloudy.

    Enjoy your weekend!

  6. April: I think your comment was great and I totally agree.


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