Would You Risk Jail for Your Kids’ Education? [Reader Forum]

A round-up of some of this week's best reader-lead conversations.

By Channing Kennedy Jan 29, 2011

One of our most-discussed stories this week, and the news item that was all over our Twitter feed, was that of Kelly Williams-Bolar, an Ohio mother sentenced to jail for illicitly sending her two daughters to a school in a better neighborhood.

It’s a complicated story. Is Williams-Bolar selfishly defrauding a school system out of money and bailing on her own neighborhood, or is she engaging in an act of civil disobedience against a system that’s stacked against poor people and people of color? And, as Jamilah notes in the piece, Williams-Bolar may be seeing her career as an educator derailed by her felony conviction. It’s hard to see how she, or her daughters, turn a now-useless teacher certification and a criminal record into a lesson learned.

The story took off on Twitter, with many calling on Ohio’s Gov. Kasich to issue a pardon. Community star Donald Glover pointed his 120,000+ followers to a Change.org petition, and pushed back on the common celebrity ‘bootstraps’ narrative in the process:

And here on Colorlines.com, here’s what you all said.

Long-time reader Tiffany, aka sunt97:

Ok I live in Akron, I went to the High School in which she worked. Yes the schools are stellar, but we have open enrollment and she could have sent her kids to any school in Akron that she wanted to. Yes I know Copley is much better and she in no way deserved to go to jail for this. I wish education were equal for all. I also know lots of people who lived in Akron and went to Copley High School when I was growing up. I am still not sure why they singled her out especially since I know that there are other people that go to that school right now that are doing the same thing.

Gabriela Rising:

Just like what @sunt97 said, isn’t what she did common practice all across the U.S.? I remember when I was in junior high, I was aware of plenty of kids who weren’t from my district and used their grandparents’ addresses to come to my school. It was an okay school, but the other rural schools could not even measure up. I don’t understand why everyone is all up in arms about this.

…oh wait, is it because she’s a black woman?

It is cruel and unusual punishment for Kelley Williams-Bola. Folks need to step back and stop demonizing and dehumanizing women of color in this country. Why didn’t my white schoolmates’ parents get in trouble?

MKW comes to us from Twitter:

In New Jersey, there are fees that some districts charge if parents from out-of-town want to send their kids to other districs. Sometimes it’s the best option for parents. It speaks more to the inequities of education than anything else. However, it’s known in some districts that parents will lie about residence to avoid paying — a sad truth as well.

Pangur Ban in response to MKW:

Where I live, they call that ‘tuition,’ for public schools, and it’s more than $7,500 for the elementaries. Wonder if she could have pulled that off, with two kids?


We understand about "wanting the best for our children". However, if we can’t afford the name-brand shoes, we buy what’s affordable to us and be happy our kids have shoes. We don’t steal them, but if we do we risk the penalty of shoplifting. Williams-Bolar is guilty of stealing services, plain and simple.

We know before we get pregnant, what we will afford and how much it costs, not just financially, to raise them. If it’s not good enough, we have smaller families to give more to the mouths we have to feed. How many mothers and fathers have sacrificed, worked day and night, downsized or went into debt to legally get their kids in the school of their choice? …that is, either a magnet school (where the child’s residence can be out of boundary), or (if it meant a school out of their home boundary) have relocated to another area even if it meant a long commute to their workplaces, just so the child’s residence is in the legal boundary of the school. Programs, classes and all activities should not be filled up by kids who are supposed to be going to another school due to their residency, thus bumping kids who legitimately should be filling those rolls.

We need to be responsible for ourselves and not just take from others or expect something we didn’t work for. We all know when we are doing something wrong. If we disregard the rules, we are showing our kids that it’s okay to just take what we want without regard to consequence. People convicted of felony offenses in Ohio can be disqualified from working as educators, and rightly so.

isyourloveenough responds to Reason:

It was MLK Jr. who taught us that things will never change until good people are willing to break bad laws and go to jail for it. This woman did just that. I can tell by your posting that your life experiences cannot fathom to understand what it means to be a poor person of color in this country. More so than that, your ideology of "needing to be responsible for ourselves" displays the spiritual dilemma plaguing our great nation: individualism. Though we know that racism and classism affect so many disproportionally in their quest to reach the ideals of this country, we turn our backs because it is simply not our problem. You are worried about this woman’s children filling the spots of affluent children who rightly deserve spots in these better schools. Tell me though, what did they do to deserve it? They were born into the right family and the right "race". It’s privilege and not a right. EVERY child has the RIGHT to be educated at a decent school and that just is not happening in this country. It is the most shameful thing to turn a blind eye on our future in this way.

And one more thing, if you are reading this and you are poor- or grew up poor like me- buy your kids name brand shoes!!!! It isn’t only the middle and upper classes that get to have dignity.

David, also in response to Reason:

So people are supposed to accept the position that they are born in because people like the one above will get all pissed off if they try to send their kids to a better school.

It’s not a matter of whether who robbed services or not. It’s about a system that punishes you for trying to better yourself. People say that segregation has ended and that there is nothing holding people of color down. But when you have someone like Williams-Bolar attempting to choose the best way to educate her children being punished for crossing district lines, it seems difficult to see how things are different.

We should just tell Ms. Williams-Bolar to stay where she is, cause we don’t want her in this part of town…

And to comment on "isyourloveenough’s" comment that the problem is individualism. I don’t necessarily think so. Many people think that individualism means being able to do whatever you want. An important thing about individualism is respecting the individual choices of other people as well. What happened to Williams-Bolar is not individualism…it’s anything but.

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