Eugene Cho

kelley williams-bolar: wanting a better education for your kids is a crime?

Someone please help me understand the story of a “Black Mother Jailed for Sending Kids to White School District.” Does the punishment fit the “crime?”

For the life of me, I can’t understand the “justice” behind the punishment and imprisonment of Kelly Williams-Bolar – the mother in question behind the headline news.

Here’s a summary of the story:

A Summit County woman will spend 10 days in jail after she was found guilty in a school residency case that could set a precedent for Ohio school districts.

Judge Patricia Cosgrove also placed 40-year-old Kelly Williams-Bolar on two years of probation and ordered her to complete 80 hours of community service.

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.

“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. [original link & and a fuller story from Dr. Boyce Watkins – a professor at Syracuse University]

Law. Justice. Compassion.

When I first read the story, I thought it was a really bad joke. In reading it carefully, it’s clear that a law was broken. That is indisputable but does the punishment fit the crime.

Even more painful is to ask the question,

“Why was this even necessary?”

“Why such inequity in education?” – Isn’t this the pervasive 800 pound gorilla?

I appreciated Elon James White’s perspective on Salon:

Under the current laws of Ohio, Williams-Bolar committed a crime. This can’t be argued. What can be argued is whether the actions by the court are right and appropriate for the defendant’s situation.

…because when you peel off all the layers, you have this: a woman (who works with special education children and was attending school for her teaching degree) is being vilified because she wanted something better for her children. And we can’t possibly ignore the racial aspect of this situation. A poor BLACK woman on public assistance is being jailed for sending her kids to the rich white school. I’m not arguing whether this is how it should be looked at; I’m saying that is how it is looked at. It’s questionable at this point whether the teaching degree she’s been working toward will be allowed, because she has a felony charge against her. A family’s life is in virtual ruins because of this situation.

And many say she deserves this.

Reading comments from residents of the town she “stole” the education from say that this is fair. They pay a lot of money for that school. Rules are rules. If you don’t live there you have to pay $800 in order to attend and she did not do so. In black and white terms (no pun intended) this is true. But is anything black and white? Can we truly look at this situation and call it fair? Are we a country that would put a scarlet letter on this woman because of where she sent her kids to school? She didn’t forge $20 bills and buy electronics and diamonds. She didn’t pretend to be a victim of 9/11 and try to claim special funds.

She sent her kids to school.

To judge this simply as a case of fraud is to ignore the surrounding circumstances. Some say that, legally speaking, “circumstances” don’t matter. But if you murder someone they specifically have to figure out if it was a crime of passion, was it self-defense or was it premeditated. Each crime receives wildly different sentences. The bottom line is that a person is dead. But somehow that’s not black and white. They say Williams-Bolar was judged by a jury of her peers. Was she really? Was it a group of poor minorities trying to finally have a chance at the supposed American dream? Were these “peers” people whose families have tried for generations to rise from the injustice and inequalities that they — literally — had nothing to do with?

Show me these “peers.”

I’m not saying Kelley Williams-Bolar was right. I’m not saying she shouldn’t have to pay what she owes to the local government. I’m saying to make an example of a poor mother with a family on her first offense is unconscionable. To think this reasonable is to ignore the reality that we live in and the shades of right and wrong that appear in so many offenses. [original link]

One perspective:

This is shared from a young African-American woman that attends our church:

This is beyond unacceptable. Too bad it didn’t come up in the State of the Union Speech speech last night. Just feeds the belief that no matter how hard you try, you’ll never escape poverty and inequality. That’s why neighborhoods of color have such low hope. The system fights against them every step of the way. That’s real. We can ignore it but people who live it know better. And it’s shameful!

Take Action..

What Williams-Bolar is accused of doing is illegal. But even if she faked her daughters’ address (she maintains that her daughters split their time between two homes), it’s unconscionable to send her to jail, tear her family apart and ruin her chance at a steady career just because she wanted to send her kids to a better school. The sheer cruelty of the verdict – and the judge’s own admission that Williams-Bolar is being punished to serve as an example for other parents – has created a tidal wave of online support. Sign the petition today.

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50 Responses

  1. Andy M says:

    I definately agree that it is unreasonable to send her to jail for this offense.

    Around here (it may be different in other states, but I don’t know) our public school system is set up in such a way that the richer you are, the better education and opportunities you receive. I see schools in lower income areas that look more like they are closed down, but then I see a school in a middle to upper income neighborhoods that have large campuses and brand new facilities. And they probably spend more on their new football stadium than the other school even spends on their whole facility.

    I’m not saying that every school everywhere has to be exactly the same, but our society has decided that poor kids aren’t as capable as rich kids, and aren’t as worthy of our attention and resources.

    (This isn’t to say that schools in lower income areas aren’t doing their best, but rather that they are not supported nearly as well)

    I believe that this system has created the situation in which people like Kelley Williams-Bolar, who desperately want the best for their kids, will break the rules in order to get it. And I can’t really blame her for it.

    • Dayton Bomber says:

      …sorry to break your bubble, but the Akron School district actually spends nearly 50 percent more per student than Copley. Furthermore, thanks to funds taken from the Ohio Tobacco Settlement, Ohio has taken on an aggressive school construction campaign, the bulk of which have been built in urban areas like Akron. And to answer another slander against Copley Schools, it is about 20 percent black; so much for the rep as a rich, white district.

      • Andy M says:

        “slander” Where did I slander anyone? I referred more to my own area than I did to the place where Kelley Williams-Bolar did this. If my assessment of schools is incorrect for that area, then great, but what I said is my experience of how our school system works in this country.

        Ohio has an aggressive school construction campaign? Great, more places should do that. But I don’t think that automatically nullifies my comment. Other people have mentioned below that she committed this crime because of safety issues, rather than educational issues. So I admit that in this particular situation the comparison between Akron and Copley may not be a good comparison. But that doesn’t mean that my opinion expressed above isn’t true in other places.

  2. Sako Kassabian says:

    Well, you have a sort of dilemma here.

    Justice is not mercy. Justice has no emotions. It demands what is debted to it and when it is given it, it demands no more. Justice does not care about circumstances. If the law in Ohio says that, then justice will get what it deserves. Our legal system is not like families. It is a bit like chastising and punishing. A family will look at the circumstances, for example, if their child is at fault because they are about raising children not punishing criminals. The justice system is not about raising ‘children’ in a sense but to hold a standard. So I don’t think they are able to lower their standards because of a situation. What would a judge think if a thief told him/her that he stole in order to feed his family? Of course he would feel bad but the law is the law.

    Now, is the law correct? That is something that the people of Ohio will have to decide. It really sucks that our public education is trash in this country even though we spend one of the highest on education in the world. It sucks that women need to go through all of this in order to send their children to school. For me, the answer is simple but I don’t say it lightly because some people just can’t. Time to start homeschooling.

    • Bo says:

      I’d respectfully disagree with what I think is implied by the statement “the law is the law.” The law is never simply just the law. It is created by humans. It is interpreted by humans. It is enforced (an in some cases selectively so) by humans. And even revered law documents such as our Constitution have been revised by humans.

      When laws are selectively enforced, upon certain groups and not others, that may be lawful but I don’t believe that is just.

    • says:

      I disagree that the justice system would be “lowering” standards by exhibiting some human deceny – After all, the ability to evaluate the equitable and moral spheres of our actions is what separates us from say, roaches. I may b e misunderstanding…Would you say a bit more please? Justice may not be mercy but the two cannot exist nor be sustained without the other.

    • Andy M says:

      Not that I need to add much to what was already said here, but our judicial system is set up in such a way where judges can in fact look not only at whether a law was broken. But to a certain degree judges can take a person’s circumstances into account, and even challenge whether a law is legal under our constitution. It is definately not just, “the law is the law”.

    • I reject the notion that just because something is legal it is intrinsically just.

      It was illegal for Rosa Parks to step to the front of the bus. It was illegal for the freedom riders to enter the state of Mississippi. It was illegal for slaves to run away from their masters. Hell, it was illegal for Rahab to hide the Israelite spies and illegal for Jesus to heal on the sabbath.

      Beyond that, I find the punishment for this “crime” to be horrifying, and I find your defense of that punishment sad.

  3. jasdye says:

    This is a textbook example of the re-segregation, nay, apartheid schooling system in the US. For those who are doubtful of the racial as well as social-class aspects of this case, please read Jonathan Kozol’s “Shame of a Nation.”

  4. DS says:

    As a teacher in a poor urban district, I understand the pain of losing good students, an involved parent and the state funding that comes with them; as a taxpayer, I understand the outrage at someone who lies to attend an out-of-district school at in-district tuition; as a law-abiding citizen, I understand the desire to “send a message”; as a Christ-follower, I am appalled at the outcome of this case.

  5. Half the kids that attend Lowell HS in SF are always out of town kids. Remember that? And there’s no regulation there. Ridiculous to make an example of someone so desperate to make a better life for her kids. For an institution that is clearly failing to provide a quality education for most children, the courts are certainly giving the school system an inordinate amount of power. Another reason over a million parents choose to homeschool their kids and provide so much more than what the government can.

  6. Tony Lin says:

    When I first read about this, the only thought that came to my mind was this: In a few weeks the country will watch the Superbowl with a (rich, white) quarterback who raped girls (plural) and never spent a day in jail. And here is a mother who did what my mother and many mothers I know would have done to help their children and she is going to jail for it.

    In addition to signing a petition, I say we start a scholarship fund for her daughters.

  7. Ed says:

    Update: 11 a.m. EST, Jan. 26, 2011 Edward Williams, Kelley Williams-Bolar’s father, called to clarify that her decision to enroll her children in the suburban district had nothing to do with the academic quality of the school and was because of safety issues. Williams-Bolar’s house had been broken into and she’d had to file 12 different police reports due to crime in the area, he said. Enrolling the children in the district where her father lived was a safety-based decision, and Williams wants to dispel any rumors that it was based on academics.

  8. jchenwa says:

    Well, this comes so close to Dr. King day…more than intent, maybe we need to look @ who this person is. Teachers are among the nicest, most sincere people on this earth. I know what it’s like not to have. Guam is like a third world country with a thin veneer of US pop culture. But, if I was judge, I’d just order the money to be paid back – the community service was good. But it’s not loving to keep a record of their wrongs. But maybe with all the hoopla, some people will be moved to support the girls, so they can be in a safe learning environment – just like that Nicolas Cage/Bridget Fonda movie, “It Could Happen To You”. We still have to work with the law. Wait for GOD’s provision, sometimes.

  9. seth says:

    i’m going to go out on a limb here and ask is this getting more publicity because it’s a poor black woman who did this?

    If it had been a rich white woman who forged records to send their child to school, would we have the same response?

    I feel bad for this woman but let’s not make this out to be a racial issue, because I FEEL it’s not.

    We’re shocked at the fact that this woman had to go to such lengths for her children but we don’t realize that the “re-segregation” as some people put it of these communities exist because so many people have exited out and abandoned them.

    • says:

      What do you mean, so many people have exited out and abandoned them?

    • Tammara says:

      Well I would like to let you know if it had been a rich white woman then we wouldn’t have this conversation because she is rich and would be able to pay for her child’s future. You are judging the situation because you don’t understand that the standards in the community which she live are low. I would do it to better my children. As parents you are there to protect your children and only want the best for them. She was trying and that’s what matters. It saddens me greatly to see why people wouldn’t understand this mothers love for her children. She didn’t kill anybody nor is she a threat to society and the only things she is guilty of is being poor and wanting more.

    • Globalization Neutral says:

      According to an interview with the superintendent there were actually a 48 cases of forged residencies but this is the only one that went to trial, as she was desperate and would not back off. Black people tend to have a lower net worth even when they pull in the same salaries, as they are not likely to have inherited as much money due to historical problems in this country. I suspect the desperation and tenacity in which she clung to the residency argument she was making, is what makes this a racial issue not that she tried to get her daughters into the school.

  10. This makes me so angry. I remember that there were tons of kids who conveniently “appeared” to live in a certain school district so they could play sports at a certain level. Everyone turned a blind eye. And yeah, they were usually the whiter, richer school districts. No doubt this still happens in many forms and numbers. It all just depends on who you are and who it benefits. Such hypocrisy.

  11. Patricia says:

    It has been over 10 years since I have had children going to the Copley school system. My real estate taxes continue to raise and we no longer have children in school. When Bolar was given a chance to repay the school, too bad she did not take it, of the ones that were in question, she was the only one who would not pay. I am sick of tired of folks taking from the system based on need, when need was not there. The very school she worked in is the school her child should have attended, what a message Bolar is sending to the children she works with. Yes, one fool mistake can change a life for ever. I’m sure Bolar wish she had done the right thing.

    • I may be misunderstanding you too, but are you suggesting that this woman was given the option to pay the school INSTEAD of serving jail time? Moreover, are you suggesting that after 12 police reports, burglaries and general craziness that this does not create a need to move your children to a safer school zone?

    • jasdye says:

      I’m sorry. You think it’s reasonable that someone living in public housing pay a school district $30,000? Even though her father lives there and pays taxes?

      And you seem to resent having to pay taxes at all for the schools since your children are no longer going there. You do know that the public schools are an investment in the betterment of the population, right?

    • Globalization Neutral says:

      Her father pays taxes there. If her kids move between her house and their grandfather’s the tax arguments sound a little bit more hollow. She did have a connection to the community and close family has paid in taxes to the district. It is an ambiguous situation.

  12. […] kelley williams-bolar: wanting a better education for your kids is a heinous crime – eugene cho […]

  13. JS says:

    Come on REALLY. Do we really need to turn it to a race issue Eugene. Should she have gone to jail of course not. Is it helpful to imply that it wouldn”t have happened if she hadnt been black?

    • Eugene Cho says:

      @JS: So, why did she go to jail? You don’t think that it’s possible that her being black – and a poor Black woman at that – was part of the equation?

      • JS says:

        It’s possible I suppose but to state it as a fact is troubling. What she did was illegal on several counts. I am all for everyone having the same access to excellent education and it angers me at how much inequity exists especially on the public school level . She was given the opportunity to pay what was owed indicating a willingness to work with her. She refused. It is NOT purely a race issues although there are race components. If a white family did this and refused to do what she was asked to do I suspect they would have faced the same punishment

        • Andy M says:

          In my opinion, Eugene didn’t make it “purely” a race issue, but rather that race is part of it along with the fact that she is poor.

          I disagree that a white family would have been punished the same. It is possible, but statistically minorities are put in prison more often than white people.

          And how on earth is a women in public assistance supposed to pay $30,000? I don’t know her particular reasons for refusing to pay, but in her situation I think it is unreasonable.

  14. Gil says:

    She didn’t “refuse” to pay. She didn’t have the money to pay. There is a difference. The fact that she had to commit fraud for her kids to get a decent education is the real crime here. I think we can agree on that much. This wouldn’t have happened to a white family because no one would have noticed them. Because the kids were black is why there was even an investigation into residency in the first place. I am not saying the woman had no moral culpability for violating a law, but the punishment is excessive and opens the judge and court up to civil rights investigations.

    • JS says:

      Gil: the report I heard was she REFUSED. The solutions are NOT simple having said that it WOULD have happened if it had been a white family. I know because I have been involved with White families who have done the same thing. The fact that she had to committ fraud is huge. The punishment is excessive I agree. I dont know what the solution is I do know that poor black families are NOT the only ones facing inexcusably bad school districts. Having said that, I find it troubling how quickly we decide its a race issue when its not. It’s a justice issue. Sadly committing a felony didn’t solve the problem. Not only did her decision rightly or wrongly earn her a felony BUT we in all likelihood have lost a potentially wonderful educator in her. It is a LOSE LOSE situation.

      • Miles says:

        Site your source for this information. Nothing I can find on the Akron Beacon Journal website confirms this.

        Although this quote is interesting: “State Sen. Tom Sawyer, D-Akron, said changes in the law are needed.

        ”People are receiving what are, in effect, short prison sentences but wind up being life sentences in terms of their livelihoods,” he said at the news conference.”

        Does she deserve having her home (public housing) and livelihood (teaching) taken away? That seems worse than a life sentence to me…

  15. Tony Lin says:

    I think the main point here is that the punishment does not fit the crime. Putting her in jail is extreme. Jail is for 1) locking up people who are a danger to society, 2) punish them so they will suffer the consequences of their actions and hopefully not do it again. She is not a danger to society and since her crime has shown her to be a good mother, there is no punishment that would make her act differently in the future.

  16. says:

    Some interesting back story is developing here:

    “In June 2009, the late Chief Justice, Thomas J. Moyer, threw out Williams’ appeal, which was based on his claim that his home was incorporated under his wife’s name as the Elizabeth Williams Group Home Inc.

    Williams and his daughter were indicted by county prosecutors on the theft and tampering charges on Nov. 2, 2009, court records show.

    On Jan. 10, two days before the joint trial began in Cosgrove’s court, Edward Williams filed notice of a civil rights action in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

    Williams and his daughter had asked Cosgrove to delay their trial as a result of the filing, but the judge denied the request.

    Walsh, Summit County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Cody and various Copley-Fairlawn school officials were named in the federal civil rights filing.”


    • says:

      Oh yeah, they are trying to make an example of her and her family all right, but for a much bigger reason….this just might be an act of “preventative retaliation.”

  17. danderson says:

    Perhaps if well-intended liberals would start supporting charter schools and demanding that teacher unions become honest brokers to support educational reform. Eugene, I loved to see you write sometime about support for Obama’s and Duncan’s educational initiatives. They don’t use racism as a crutch, but call for positive educational reform.

    But it’s always the same old story from the Left. The US is bunch of racists. (Even though Barak Obama called it the best nation on Earth). I hear it all the time from my teacher colleagues casting aspersions upon any type of reform.

    What we need is dialogue about how to improve the educational system in this country, not just another anecdote about racism.

    (It’s funny how so many on this blog find LGBT lifestyles just fine and not a sin, but racists of course are another story….

    • Eugene Cho says:


      Need to learn more personally. Excited that our church will be hosting our annual Faith and Race conference on the important subject of Education. I almost think that we may need to more broadly use “Faith & Justice”.

      Is that what you hear? The left are always saying that US is a bunch of racists?

      Agreed about dialogue…and action for education reform.

    • Andy M says:

      I agree that we don’t just need another anecdote about racism, but we also don’t need people insisting that racism is never part of the problem. If liberals are the ones who often go on relentlessly about racism, then there are just as many conservatives who relentlessly deny that racism is ever part of the problem.

      You are right that we need dialogue about how to improve things.

  18. Dan says:

    Parents have been gaming the system for years to get their kids into better schools. Sometimes the loopholes are legal, sometimes they are less so. What is sadly unsurprising to me is that the law came down hardest on a single black mother for doing what is done by many North American parents who “borrow” a friend’s mailing address or take the principal out for a game of golf or whatever.

    For those who want to deny that this is about race and class, show me the middle-class white parents who have been put in jail for doing the exact same thing – because lots of them have.

  19. Pat Pope says:

    Hey Eugene, not sure if you’ve seen this yet, but it appeared on our local news yesterday.,0,5391696.story?page=2

  20. MaryG says:

    So here is it the point, a Black mother goes to jail because she has sent her kids to a better school and WallStreet has taken millions from American money and nobody, there is nobody on jail for that, and we are all sensible because somebody like us, with the same situation like us, is just trying to take advantage of a very unfair system. why should my kid can’t go to a better school, who dictates that?! but we fight against the teachers for having better benefits, rather to ask better benefits for us. America is blind thinking they are great and shinny, in reality America give a damn to their own people, so imagine if they really give a damn to anybody else outside.

  21. MaryG says:

    And FYI, it hasn’t been even a 100 years since racism and segregation stop been something the country supported. So those idiots that believe in it, and their sons/girls still alive today. Still now there is school that does not allow black and white kid celebrated their prom together…. so yes discrimination is on the table yes..

  22. tabatha says:

    there is much disdain about the decision here, but does anyone have a verdict that they think would be “just”? if there is an agreement that a crime was committed, what is appropriate punishment by law? i agree this whole story is appalling, but it is so easy to pick apart the bad with really clever words and appear brilliant. we could speak all day about how ridiculous this is…if you were the judge, what would you have done? i wish there was more discourse on what would be justice in this situation.

  23. Matt says:

    I saw a tweet the other day that said this, “People make rules to avoid making decisions.” I think that’s very fitting in this case. The punishment certainly does not fit the crime. To burden this woman with a felony should be a crime in itself. But to throw around the word racism is taking a leap. It’s social inequality at worst. If it was pure racism why were the kids allowed to attend for two years? Why is it so obvious it’s racism? As far as the tweet that linked to this blog post, why is it so obvious that incarceration rates prove racism is such a big problem? Undoubtedly it exists. If we were all blind some would still find some way to exclude others. My thoughts are that it’s more of a spiritual/cultural problem, as far as arrest rates, regardless of race. I’m being very forthright and there’s no sarcasm or anything else intended. They’re legitimate questions.

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In our culture, we can be so obsessed with the "spectacular" or "glamorous." The Church often engagws in thia language and paradigm...but what if God has called many of us to small, ordinary things?

Will we still be faithful?
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I recently came across this picture taken by @mattylew, one of our church staff...and I started tearing up: This is my mother; in her 70s; with realities of some disabilities that make it difficult for her to stand up and sit down...but here she is on her knees and prostate in prayer. She doesn't have any social media accounts, barely knows how to use her smartphone, doesn't have a platform, hasn't written a book, doesn't have any titles in our church, isn't listed as a leader or an expert or a consultant or a guru. But she simply seeks to do her best - by God's grace - to be faithful to God. She prays for hours every day inteceding for our family, our church, and the larger world.

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The death toll rises to over 400 and over 7,000 injured in multiple cities and hundreds of villages along the Western border with Iraq.

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