Education and School Choice

A Mother’s Conviction

A single mother, Kelley Williams-Bolar was determined get her two daughters into a good school, one where they would learn and be safe. A commendable goal, but it has turned Ms. Williams-Bolar, a woman with a heretofore unblemished record, into a convicted felon. Ms. Williams-Bolar has worked as a high-school teaching assistant, and this conviction pretty much nixes her chances of getting a teaching license.

Here is what this newly-minted felon did: Ms. Williams-Bolar lives in a housing project in Akron, Ohio, but she listed the address of her daughters as that of her father, who lives in a district with schools that Ms. Williams-Bolar felt would offer the girls a better opportunity to learn. Indeed, the Copley-Fairlawn district schools (where the girls were enrolled), are, judging by their website, American pie, with reading guidance, a gifted program, and an attractive modern building. Just what any caring mother would want.

We are not going to say that what Ms. William-Bolar did was right. She told a lie, and it’s never right to lie. But, given the failure of many public school districts, we must confess that we can understand her temptation. What we can’t understand is punishment horrendously out of sync with what Ms. Williams-Bolar did. You might expect a slap on the wrist, accompanied by some tips for getting her girls into a better school legally? No, Williams-Bolar was convicted of a felony and sentenced to five years in prison, though Judge Patricia Cosgrove reduced that to 10 days behind bars. Williams-Bolar will be will be on probation for three years and will be required to perform community service. Ohio.com notes that the judge was fully cognizant of the devastating impact the felony conviction will have on the rest of Ms. Williams-Boler’s life:

“She noted in suspending all but 10 days of a five-year prison sentence that Williams-Bolar, a convicted felon, would bear the further punishment of losing the opportunity to gain her teaching license. Actually, the fallout is much worse. As a felon, Williams-Bolar will encounter substantial hurdles getting any promising job.”

This is all infuriating enough. But there is more:

“In addition to the tampering offenses, Williams-Bolar and her father, Edward L. Williams, 64, were charged with fourth-degree felonies of grand theft, accused of defrauding the school system of two years of educational services for the girls. School officials testified that those services were worth about $30,500 in tuition.”

Fortunately, the jury couldn’t reach a verdict on grand theft.

We all know that the school district counts costs in educating children, but there is another kind of grand theft going on here: the theft of a good education and a decent start in life for children like Ms. William-Boler’s two daughters. Really, that is all she wanted, and it will be even harder now that she is a convicted felon.

This is an incredible miscarriage of justice here–and I am not referring to a devoted mother fudging residency forms.

Charlotte Hays is a Visiting Fellow at the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy.

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