I have not written about the Kelley Williams-Bolar case previously because I did not have the words to describe how I felt about it. When I first read about the case, I immediately started to tear up and my emotions were in turmoil. I didn’t understand the strong feelings and then I realized that the case recalled ancestral memories of slavery for me. Kelley Williams-Bolar was being accused of “stealing an education” for her children.
Here is some brief background on this case…
Prosecutors in Ohio brought criminal charges against Kelly Williams-Bolar of Akron and her father. The state accused the pair of “allegedly falsifying residency records of two of the woman’s children formerly enrolled in the Copley-Fairlawn City Schools.” The most serious of the charges brought against Ms. Williams was tampering with records which is a “third-degree felony carrying potential penalties of one to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.” Her 64-year old father was charged with “one count of grand theft for aiding and abetting his daughter in her alleged deception to obtain educational services from Copley-Fairlawn schools.”
Bolar-Williams said her two girls were enrolled in the Copley-Fairlawn school system four years ago — in August 2006, according to court records — over ”safety issues.”
During the trial, several pieces of evidence were presented supporting Ms. Williams’ claims that she was in fact living with her father when she enrolled her children in the suburban school district. However what was also made clear was the lengths to which the school district went to “prove” that she was in fact not a resident in their catchment area:
School officials, according to trial testimony, hired a private investigator in an attempt to document the activities of Williams-Bolar on more than a dozen school mornings.
In several hours of the videotaped surveillance — much of which was shot under cover through a wrought-iron fence — the jury saw Williams-Bolar dropping off her children at a school bus stop within a short walk of her father’s home on Black Pond.
However, when Williams-Bolar took the stand in her own defense on Friday, O’Brien introduced evidence showing that she had 2008 and 2009 W-2 statements from her employer, Akron Public Schools, sent in her name to the address of her father in Copley Township.
Williams-Bolar works as a teaching assistant with special-needs children at Buchtel High School.
The defense also produced 2005 mailed correspondence to Williams-Bolar — more than a year before her children were enrolled in the schools — from the Copley-Fairlawn district. It, too, was sent to her father’s home.
More specific details about the trial can be found here. On January 15th, Ms. Williams was convicted by a jury after 7 hours of deliberation. She was sentenced by the judge to 10 days in jail, three years of probation and community service for falsifying residency records. As if this were not enough, here is more from the judge in this case:
Cosgrove noted Williams-Bolar faces another form of punishment.
Williams-Bolar, a single mother, works as a teaching assistant with children with special needs at Buchtel High School. At the trial, she testified that she wanted to become a teacher and is a senior at the University of Akron, only a few credit hours short of a teaching degree.
That won’t happen now, Cosgrove said.
”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.”
Williams-Bolar addressed Cosgrove briefly before being sentenced, saying ”there was no intention at all” to deceive school officials.
She pleaded with Cosgrove not to put her behind bars.
”My girls need me,” she said. ”I’ve never, ever gone a day without seeing them off. Never. My oldest daughter is 16.
”I need to be there to support them.”
Williams-Bolar’s two girls, now 16 and 12, are attending schools elsewhere. They left the Copley-Fairlawn district before the 2009 school term.
Ms. Williams-Bolar was interviewed later and expressed stunned disbelief that she would be jailed for this offense. She believed that if she were convicted she would be sentenced to probation at most.
Kelley Williams-Bolar took an extended pause, pondering as she sat in jail Thursday.
Tears came to her eyes as seconds ticked away. She’s a single mother of two daughters in the middle of a 10-day jail term — a convicted felon — all because of the school the girls attended.
Years ago, she said she took her daughters from Akron’s public housing after their home was burglarized and placed them with their grandfather in Copley Township.
Take a step back to consider everything that is at play in the story of Ms. Bolar-Williams. Here you have a black single mother who was living in public housing with her two daughters. After a traumatic incident of their home being burglarized, she moved her daughters to their grandfather’s home so that they could be safe and attend a good school. A school district spent thousands of dollars to hire a PI to investigate this black woman and her children. Why exactly was this? Are public schools in Ohio so flush with extra cash that they can afford such luxuries? If Ms. Williams and her children had been white would the school have gone to this trouble to expose them as supposed ‘criminals?’ I think that any fair-minded observer would have to say ‘no’. Now we have a tragedy on our hands with lives being destroyed. A 40 year old woman who was putting herself through college to become a teacher is having that dream dashed. What lesson do you suppose her daughters are learning in all of this? Are they learning that America is a just society? Are they learning that they can ‘be anything that they want to be’ when they become adults?
I would say that they have learned a bitter lesson about American INjustice and oppression. This is a form of state violence that the Williams family has been subjected to. Ms. Williams has been accused of defrauding the district for over $30,000 in educational costs because her daughters did not meet the residency requirement. At least four lives have been destroyed over $30,000? Surely that cannot be just!
Apparently this case is causing a lot of controversy in Ohio as well it should. Reporter David Scott writes about some of the reaction. However, I want to point to the words of commentator Boyce Watkins who wrote this:
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.
In her own words, Ms. Williams said from jail:
”If I had the opportunity, if I had to do it all over again, would I have done it? . . . ,” she said. After almost a half-minute of silence, she answered her own question.
”I would have done it again,” she said. ”But I would have been more detailed. . . . I think they wanted to make an example of me.”
Yes indeed, the state of Ohio wanted to make an example of a black single mother trying to find a way to ensure a successful future for her children by giving them a chance to have a good education… Welcome to America in the 21st century, still racist and unjust.!
Mariame Kaba, http://www.usprisonculture.com/blog/.