Good evening, dear readers. It’s that time again and we’re off until tomorrow at 9, when we have a huge menu of delicious content in store for you. In the meantime, feel free to chat in the forums, make this an open thread OR participate in this week’s dare. Which, if you’re wondering, is to read about and consider signing the petition to free Kelley Williams-Bolar. Find her story after the cut.
Kelley Williams-Bolar, a 40-year-old mother of two, was convicted of a felony last week and sent to jail for 10 days. Her crime? Falsifying records so her kids could attend a safer school in the district where her father lives.
Uh-oh! Sounds like two little girls were trying to get a free education off the back of hard-working tax payers, and if that’s not worth a felony charge, I don’t know what is. Williams-Bolar, according to the prosecution, lives in subsidized housing in Akron, Ohio, and not with her father in Copley Township–as she claimed on several official school forms when she enrolled her two daughters. The Copley schools are, it seems, better and safer than the schools in Akron. (They are also whiter. Williams-Bolar is black. But obviously race has nothing to do with this case!)
The school district grew suspicious enough about the Williams-Bolar kids to, apparently, hire a private detective, who filmed Williams-Bolar dropping her children off at a bus stop near her parents’ house. (This seems like a fantastic use of school district money.) Officials confronted her. The school district superintendent, Brian Poe, says that such cases (apparently there are something like 15-20 a year) are usually resolved without going to trial.
But apparently, this was impossible with Williams-Bolar. (Maybe she pointed out that the girls’ grandfather was paying taxes in the district, for Christ’s sake?) She and her father were charged with falsifying records–and grand theft, over the $30,500 in tuition the school claims she owed for her daughters. (The jury didn’t reach a unanimous decision on the grand theft charge.) According to the presiding judge, Patricia Cosgrove, who spoke with The Akron Beacon-Journal, “the state would not move, would not budge, and offer Ms. Williams-Bolar to plead to a misdemeanor,” despite several pretrial hearings.
Williams-Bolar, a teaching assistant, is working towards a teaching degree, but her felony conviction will likely derail that. Her daughters will be attending schools in Akron. And the Copley Township schools will no longer be host to 12- and 16-year-old frauds like the Williams-Bolar sisters.
What Williams-Bolar is accused of doing is illegal. But even if she faked her daughters’ address (she maintains that her daughters split their time between two homes), it’s unconscionable to send her to jail, tear her family apart and ruin her chance at a steady career just because she wanted to send her kids to a better school. The sheer cruelty of the verdict – and the judge’s own admission that Williams-Bolar is being punished to serve as an example for other parents – has created a tidal wave of online support. Sign the Change.org petition today.
In just eight hours, more than 1,000 have signed a Change.org member-created petition to reduce her sentence. Supporters have overtaken Twitter with the hashtag #savekellywilliamsbolar (sic), using http://bit.ly/williamsbolar to link to the petition.
It’s a sad truth that public schools in American vary widely in quality, safety and affluence. Kids in one zip code can get top-notch teachers and swanky classrooms while kids just a few miles away make do with cast-off books and rat-infested hallways. Your education can determine your future – and Williams-Bolar wanted her daughters to have a brighter one. She told the court that she’d been scared for her daughters’ safety at Akron schools, and that there was no intention at all to deceive school officials. But that wasn’t enough for Common Pleas Judge Patricia Cosgrove, who thought her behavior deserved a felony conviction.
A growing number of advocates and activists are speaking out about the racial and social ramifications of this case. Among them is Dr. Boyce Watkins of Syracuse University, a well-known professor and speaker who wrote about the Williams-Bolar case on his blog.
“This case is a textbook example of everything that remains racially wrong with America’s educational, economic and criminal justice systems,” he wrote. “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.”