the Ohio mom who was jailed for having her children illegally registered in a school district in which they didn't live. The saga of Kelley Williams-Bolar made the rounds of the black blogosphere this week, before bubbling to the surface and reaching the mainstream media. It's a cause celebre that's risen to a level of interest not seen online since the case of The Jena Six.
Just in case you've been living under a rock all week, here are the basics of the story:
An Ohio woman who was jailed for tampering with records to get her children into a better school district has been released from jail a day early, according to a local newspaper. Kelley Williams-Bolar left the Summit County Jail on Wednesday, having served nine days of her 10-day sentence, the Akron Beacon Journal reported.
Williams-Bolar, a single mother living in subsidized housing in Akron, used her father's address to register her two daughters in the high-achieving suburban Copley-Fairlawn school district. Copley-Fairlawn said the improper registration cost it $30,000 in lost tuition and $6,000 in investigative costs.
The Akron City school district met only four of 26 standards on the latest Ohio Department of Education Report Card and had a 76% graduation rate. Copley-Fairlawn City Schools met 26 of 26 standards and had a 97.5% graduation rate.
Williams-Bolar told CNN affiliate WEWS-TV that she and her children considered her father's house one of their homes. "My primary residence was both places. I stayed at both places," she said in an interview at the Summit County Jail.
Williams-Bolar's father, Edward Williams, told CNN affiliate WJW-TV that the children did live with him, so he believed the family was within the law. He said his daughter's Akron neighborhood – where she lives in government-subsidized housing – isn't safe.
Williams-Bolar, a single mother, works as a teacher's aide at a high school in Akron and is just 12 credits away from earning a teaching degree at the University of Akron, according to the Beacon Journal. Her felony conviction will bar her from being licensed to teach in Ohio.
Summit County Common Pleas Judge Patricia Cosgrove sentenced Williams-Bolar last week to five years in prison, but suspended all but 10 days. Williams-Bolar also must serve 80 hours of community service and will be on probation for three years.
The case has drawn national media attention and outrage, much of it due to its racial undertones: Williams-Bolar is black, while the Copley-Fairlawn schools are predominantly white. Williams-Bolar told CNN affiliate WEWS-TV in Cleveland that she plans to appeal her conviction. The local chapter of the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network is trying to raise money to fund the appeal, the Beacon Journal reported.
I'm sure I'll catch a bunch of heat for this, but darnit, it needs to be said.
Could we as a community, please, please, please stop defending criminality?
Yes, Williams-Bolar's quest to provide her children with a better education than that of their home school district is laudable. Yes, Williams-Bolar's felony conviction and the subsequent loss of a possible career is tragic. Yes, it's unfair that Williams-Bolar's children can't get as good an education in their home district.
But guess what? When you strip all of that away, the issue remains that a law was broken. Period.
I've heard many people argue that had Kelley Williams-Bolar not been black, there's a good chance the school district (which is 75% white) would have never gone after her. While that may be the case (there's no proof to substantiate it), it still doesn't change the fact that she knowingly violated a law. As a person employed by a school system, if there's anyone who should know better, it would be her. Just because race is involved doesn't make this a racial story.
It's about simple economics. By illegally registering her children outside of their designated school district, she took $30,000 in funding from children whose parents worked equally hard to provide a good education for their kids. Yes, the intent is noble, but it's still illegal. If you broke into my house to steal food to feed your children, your best intentions don't change the fact that you took food out of my children's mouths.
Instead of getting all worked up over stories like this, and signing online petitions, I hope we'll learn a lesson from Jena and respond pro-actively, rather than reactively. Rather than bemoan the unfairness of the system that lead this mother to commit a crime, I hope everyone will channel that energy productively by signing up to be a tutor or mentor to kids in schools like the one Williams-Bolar sought to rescue her kids from. Call your congressman and raise a ruckus about the disparity in educational funding. Do something that will really change things for the entire black community, and other communities that are underserved.
Do something other than sign a lousy e-petition and groveling about a racial aspect to a story that may or may not even be there. We did that with the Jena Six. Based on the trials some of those kids endured once the thousands of marchers and hundreds of bloggers moved on, I'd say we missed the point of that whole expedition.
Yes, this story (which oddly hasn't showed up on the radar of school choice-advocating conservatives yet) illuminates the disparity in the quality of education those in the inner city receive versus their suburban counterparts. It also highlights that public school systems that are funded based on property taxation virtually insure that poor kids will always be a few steps behind. It is truly a shame that Kelley Williams-Bolar had to resort to such means to give her kids a better shot at life. I have great sympathy for her, and sincerely hope that her probation period is shortened.
But it doesn't excuse the fact that she still committed a crime. Sorry. And in the black community, sometimes we are too sympathetic towards "working the system," to the point that defrauding the welfare system, cheating on our taxes and even drug dealing is deemed justifiable because of the horrible inequalities that do exist. What would help more would be organized, consistent, pro-active action, instead of sympathizing with desperation. If the Kelley Williams-Bolar case can inspire us to do this, perhaps her crime will not have been in vain.
Jay Anderson is a freelance writer from Washington, DC, whose work has been featured in the Washington Post and on NPR. When he's not busy talking smack here, he runs the award-winning blog AverageBro.com. Follow him via Twitter @AverageBro.