Mother Jailed For Sending Her Children to the “Wrong” School

by Cara on January 25, 2011

in bigotry, class and economics, courts, discrimination, education and schools, human rights, misogyny, parenthood, patriarchy, race and racism

Last week, a woman was sent to jail for ten days, placed on two years probation, and ordered to complete 80 hours of community service for a felony conviction. Her crime was fudging documents so that she could send her two daughters to the “wrong” school district, in the richer Akron, Ohio suburb where her father lived. She was led away in handcuffs.

On Saturday, a jury found Williams-Bolar guilty on two counts of tampering with records. She was also facing one count of grand theft, but the judge declared a mistrial on that charge after the jury couldn’t reach a verdict.

Williams-Bolar could have been sent to a state prison for up to 10 years, but Judge Cosgrove decided on a 10-day sentence in the Summit County Jail after weighing Williams-Bolar’s lack of criminal record with the seriousness of her crimes.

“I felt that some punishment or deterrent was needed for other individuals who might think to defraud the various school systems,” Cosgrove told NewsChannel5 after the sentencing.

Prosecutors said Williams-Bolar lived in Akron, but falsified enrollment papers in the Copley-Fairlawn School District so her two girls could attend schools for two years.

Prosecutors said the lies cost the district about $30,000. Copley-Fairlawn does not have open enrollment and out-of-district tuition is about $800 per month.

The school district spent about $6,000 to bring the case to trial. That included hiring a private investigator who followed Williams-Bolar and her children around while secretly videotaping their movements.

Superintendent Brain Poe said Copley-Fairlawn has lost hundreds of thousand of dollars because of parents illegally enrolling their children into the schools.

Poe said residency disputes are usually resolved after parents prove that they live in the district, pay tuition or remove their kids from the schools.

This marked the first time that one of their residency challenges went before a jury in criminal court. Poe said prosecuting this case was meant to send a message.

“If you’re paying taxes on a home here… those dollars need to stay home with our students,” Poe said.

One cannot honesty discuss this case without discussing the fact that Williams-Bolar is a black woman, raising black children in a city that has a large non-white population, living in a home secured through the local Housing Authority, while Copely is a very comfortably middle-class and overwhelmingly white town. Williams-Bolar is a mother who has been jailed for sending her kids to the “wrong” school district. But she’s also a black mother who has been jailed for sending her kids to a white school district.

Still, some will inevitably argue that this is not an issue of race or even class. It’s an issue of rules, of order. Someone broke the rules, and now they have to pay.

I would like to remind them firstly that who pays and how is always political.  But just as importantly, it is not arbitrary where we place borders, how we enforce borders, and who we punish for crossing them. Borders, especially modern ones, are chosen. They are artificial. We like to tell ourselves that we create borders out of necessity, to more efficiently manage communities and resources. But we also create those borders specifically to keep other people out, to control resources in a way that prevents certain populations from accessing them. There is no accident in how borders are drawn and who is being kept out and removed from resources, not along lines of race, and not along lines of class — especially not in a country were so many borders were explicitly drawn with racist intent, during times of colonization, during times of slavery, during times of Jim Crow and less “official” forms of segregation, or even during modern times of “legals” and “illegals.” It’s a little too easy to write off as coincidence that the “wrong” school district was white in a country that has a very long and modern history, both official and unofficial, of keeping all non-white but especially black students out of white schools.

As Superintendent Poe explicitly states up above, this is about “our” tax dollars, and keeping them where they belong. And anytime we start talking about “us” and “them,” we need to look at what we mean by those words, because it rarely reflects well on our intentions and prejudices. William-Bolar crossed a border that was designed to keep her out. She “stole” resources that were apparently not her or her children’s to have. (Indeed, she was also charged with grand theft, which resulted in a hung jury.)

I think it’s about time we think about what we mean by “racism” if a black mother landing in jail because she sent her kids to a better school that would not have them doesn’t count, if calling it “stealing” when she gives them access to resources these white parents get to take for granted doesn’t qualify. If we don’t understand the racism of the much higher likelihood that a black mother will have to send her child to a sub-par school that will not teach them all they need to know than a white mother, if we don’t understand the racism of punishing her for fighting back against that inherently unequal, oppressive, white supremacist system, we don’t understand the first thing about racism at all.

In fact, (though I object to his metaphorical use of the word “cripple”) I can’t say it any better than Dr. Boyce Watkins did in his blog post:

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 a textbook 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.

You should read everything he has to say on the subject.

In the end, William-Bolar’s real punishment is not the indignity and injustice of her 10 days in jail. It is the felony record that will follow her for many years to come. It will inevitably keep her from obtaining employment, from creating an economically better life for her daughters. Specifically, it will keep her from getting the teaching license she has been studying for at college — money, time, and effort all sent down the drain. A dream and opportunity taken from her because she had dreams for her daughters, wanted opportunities for them, and did the best she could in an oppressive system to see to it that they got them.

Maybe we should talk about that when we want to talk about theft, what was stolen, and from whom.

via sheresists

UPDATE: Information on how to help Kelley Williams-Bolar with her legal fees can be found here.

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{ 11 comments }

1 Lena January 25, 2011 at 3:44 pm

This is so on the mark. Thank you, Cara.

2 Rachel_in_WY January 25, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Oh, but the people in the wealthier suburb work so hard to make that money! They pulled themselves up by their bootstraps! This is why their kids deserve a better school, from which they will emerge with high test scores and awesome college prospects, but only because they worked so hard and earned it all by themselves!

It’s good to know the school district has plenty of money for lawyers, surveillance equipment, and private detectives to shadow families and videotape them (creepy!). There should be a law that requires a school district with that much of a budget surplus to donate it to less wealthy districts.

3 Alyson January 25, 2011 at 8:25 pm

I grew up around that area, went to high school in a different suburb, and visited both Copley High School and one of the big Akron public high schools for different events, and the differences are striking: the food at Copley is significantly better than average high school lunch food. They have a nice big auditorium. Everything is very clean. I know that that district has a very good gifted program. The Akron school, on the other hand, is much more run-down, clearly not having been given much attention since it was built sometime in the 1950s or earlier. The drinking fountains in the hallways didn’t work.

So isn’t it understandable that a mother from the Akron city limits would prefer her children to go to a school which she thought could get them better opportunities in life?

Authorities can say all they want about “rules,” but until school districts are funded in a way which eliminates inequality, these rules will ultimately only do a disservice to our children.

4 Sara January 26, 2011 at 1:47 pm

This is crazy to me. Yes Ms. Williams-Bolar falsified documents, however she shouldn’t have been put in jail. I too am faced with something similar with my child and a school that I do not want her to go to. I have filed for a demographic exception form for my child to attend a school that is actually closer to my home than the one that in our so called “school district”. The school that is in our school district has a history of racial prejudice, bullying, and poor test scores. I do not want my daughter to go to this school. I have expressed these feeling to both the schools and the school district. Monies would not be and issue for my child to be enrolled in the school that I want. We are a military family and the schools get paid extra through the government for military children enrolled at their schools. The so called line that divides the schools districts is a street! My child could walk to the school that I would like for her to attend and would have to ride a bus to the school that I do not want her to go to. How does this make any sense? A parent should not be punished for wanting their children to have a better education and to feel safe at school! With all the school shooting and suicides that happen at our schools for bullying and not feeling safe, you would think that the board of education would be more proactive in ensuring that ALL children feel comfortable and are getting the best education possible.

5 NN January 26, 2011 at 3:07 pm

My parents falsified documents to get me into a better school. I find it amazing that a school district would care enough to hire investigators to follow kids around. It makes me think they stood out because they where black.

6 Priscilla January 26, 2011 at 3:49 pm

My goodness, ok i understand asking her to remove her children and return them to their appointed school district, but sending her to jail, and probation for this? seems toooo much! This woman’s intentions are not to harm anyone, but to get a better SAFER education for her girls. The judge should of seen that from the start. but when costly large schools are willing to spill and throw away money like that for court proceedings, stupid judges give in.

7 Geek January 26, 2011 at 5:51 pm

The disgusting thing is that this all hides behind (shallow) logic and law.
Law broken->ok to punish someone for it (nevermind that black people get punished more).
Districting ->totally fine to draw lines based on proximity of families (nevermind that poor families can’t provide the tax base for schools that rich families can, and they’re grouped closely together)
Funding->why the heck would I want my tax dollars to pay for someone else’s kids? (nevermind that’s what they’re there for)
Extra funding->school A manages on this money just fine (nevermind that there’s more stay at home parents and nannys over in distrit A)

8 Ryan January 27, 2011 at 1:46 am

This is revolting. In America, many justify the unequal distribution of wealth based on merit. Kids in poor schools never have a shot of rising above their “station.” It’s just so depressing to hear a story about a mother doing everything she can for her children being punished for her efforts. It’s beyond the pale that those girls were denied an opportunity. The fact that their mother was punished… I don’t even have words for that. It’s such bullshit.

9 speedbudget January 28, 2011 at 8:36 am

Even if the mother wasn’t paying the school taxes, wasn’t her father? So where does the grand theft come in? Or maybe that’s why the jury was hung on that issue. The fact is, they had a close relative living in the district. I used to teach, and I knew of parents who went to further lengths to get their kids in the school district, to the point of using fake addresses. Of course, these were all white people, so it was okay.

10 whitaker January 31, 2011 at 7:59 pm

They charged Williams-Bolar quickly. Let’s see how swift justice is for these vendors stealing millions of dollars meant for the education of poor children in Ohio’s largest district. Read about this scam in the Columbus Free Press – http://www.freepress.org/departments/display/18/2011/4069.

11 Amber March 4, 2011 at 3:57 pm

I just have to say I am praying for you and your family. God will always make a way. Hold on and to your daughters, be strong like your mother, never give up whats right.

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