Remember Kelley Williams-Bolar? She’s the Akron, Ohio, mom who was convicted of a felony and jailed for nine days in January for sending her daughters to good schools in a suburban district where they didn’t live.
Williams-Bolar had asked for a pardon from the state’s governor in July. Her lawyers argued that any felonies on her record threatened her ability to earn a teacher’s license and get work as a teacher. But the Ohio Parole Board, which reviewed Williams-Bolar’s case, recommended that the single mother of two not be pardoned.
Now it’s up to Ohio Governor John Kasich to decide.
Lawyers working for Williams-Bolar, who lived in Akron public housing, argued that their client was desperate to get her daughters into safe schools and, as such, she had made mistakes. Among them, she falsified forms, claiming to be serving in the military overseas, and changing the address on her driver’s license and bank account when suburban Copley-Fairlawn school administrators first questioned her. Williams-Bolar had used her father’s address, which was inside the boundaries of the higher-performing Copley-Fairlawn schools.
But the parole board, defending its recommendation to let her conviction stand, said that Williams-Bolar could have easily fixed the matter when district officials first approached her. From the Associated Press:
“Ms. 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,” it said in its unanimous ruling. “Most parents find legitimate and legal options to address this issue. Ms. Williams-Bolar’s only response was to be deceitful.”
The Copley-Fairlawn district started cracking down on out-of-district parents back in 2005 and has resolved cases of illegal student attendance with 47 families. However, they say they were unable to reach an agreement with Williams-Bolar and were forced to turn her case over to prosecutors.
In its recommendation, the board also stated it wasn’t buying that Williams-Bolar was working toward becoming a teacher, since she hadn’t shown any evidence of working toward that goal. Earlier stories reported that she had been a few credits shy of her degree.
Back in 2007, when she was first charged, her daughters were 9 and 13 years old. Currently, the oldest goes to school in Akron and the younger one is attending a private high school as a part of the state’s voucher program.
Gov. Kasich is a big proponent of state school vouchers. From the AP:
Kasich has used the case to highlight expanded access to educational alternatives, including vouchers, and it became a rallying point for advocates of school choice.
It will be interesting to see what he does with Williams-Bolar’s conviction. The parole board apparently asked whether she had considered school vouchers, which would have been an option at the time, or moving her family in with her father.
That is something that, in hindsight, would seem to be the easiest solution. But was the father’s home big enough? Was it just an apartment? I can see where in a system that went a long time without confirming residency of its students, the price of living with her father might have been too steep — for both of them.
Focusing on vouchers is a problem, too. There simply aren’t enough vouchers — or funding — for all underserved students. Vouchers are just a convenient way to put the blame of bad education on parents instead of putting the burden of public education on the public.
What the parole board didn’t ask was why Williams-Bolar just didn’t move into the school district and make it legit. Is it because it’s too expensive? Why didn’t she try for state subsidized public housing in that area? Is it because there isn’t public housing in the good school districts? Well, why not? Whether you think her punishment was too severe or right on, that’s the question we should be asking. Why don’t 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?