Kelley Williams-Bolar: Mother jailed for sending kids to the wrong school district

A Feb. 10 update and statements by Congressman Jesse Jackson and Avenging The Ancestors Coalition, including suggestions on how you can help, follow

by Boyce Watkins, PhD

When I read about the case of Kelley Williams-Bolar, I find myself confused. The 40-year-old Ohio mother of two is being sent to jail for using her father’s address to send her two daughters to a school in a better district. Williams-Bolar lives in a housing project in Akron, Ohio, and had sent her children to school in Copley Township using her father’s address.

Williams-Bolar’s father, Edward Williams, is also being charged with fourth-degree grand theft for stealing more than $30,000 in school services for the two girls. Williams-Bolar herself will spend 10 days in jail and be placed on probation. Also, the judge in the case, Patricia Cosgrove, made it clear that she was using Williams-Bolar to set an example for other parents who consider doing the same thing. The judge went out of her way to tell the woman that she gave her jail time “so that others who think they might defraud the school system perhaps will think twice.’’

Besides being a single mom, Williams-Bolar was going to school part time in the hope of getting a job as a teacher. The judge noted that because Williams-Bolar has been convicted of a felony, she will no longer be allowed to teach in the state of Ohio. Therefore, the punishment that she and her girls will face is set to last a lifetime.

The Kelley Williams-Bolar case strikes a chord with quite a few people in the Black community for a few reasons. Most directly, a lot of kids can remember their own mothers doing the same thing to try to break the cycle of poverty that so many of us confront as children.

Inner-city schools are inadequately funded, so many parents have no choice when it comes to finding ways to get their kids a good education. Some of the children I mentor attended poorly performing inner-city schools and even though they did what they were told, most of them were unprepared for college after graduation and had never even done any homework.

One has to also wonder why there is a $30,000 funding differential between the school that Williams-Bolar sent her children to and the one that was in her district. Logic seems to imply that if funding were roughly proportionate between the two districts, it would simply be a wash, where one school’s spending could be compensated by another school’s savings.

But this is not the case in a world where far too many people of color are locked in to the horrible schools in their districts, as our elected officials continue to ignore the problem. Many of these schools don’t have books or quality teachers, while the kids in the suburbs are given everything they need to be successful. The idea that citizens are now being put in jail for attempting to access educational equality is nothing short of being Jim Crow-like in nature.

Black family economic inequality also plays a huge role in this case. It’s hard to imagine that the judge would have been compelled to make an example out of Williams-Bolar were she not a poor single mother from the projects. If she were a wealthy woman from the suburbs, she would have been able to afford the kinds of attorneys that keep people out of jail, and she also would not have been forced to break the law to help her girls get access to a good school. This case just stinks to high heaven.

Dr. Martin Luther King reminded us many years ago that a moral man or woman has the right to violate unjust laws. Williams-Bolar’s decision to break the law of educational apartheid to give her daughters a better future is no different from those who broke the law to teach slaves how to read. Access to education should be a fundamental American right, but as it stands, being poor has now become a crime, especially if you have the audacity to demand equality.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of Your Black World Coalition and a Scholarship in Action resident of the Institute for Black Public Policy. Visit him at DrBoyceWatkins.com. Readers are encouraged to sign the petition, “Gov. John Kasich: Pardon Kelley Williams-Bolar — she shouldn’t go to jail for protecting her kids,” at change.org.

Congressman Jesse Jackson decries unjust school funding

by Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.

The case of Ms. Kelley Williams-Bolar is a difficult one, but also one that plays out in millions of households across this country every year as parents struggle to find ways to bring an equal high quality public education to their children. I believe our government is under an obligation to provide an equal high quality education for all of our children at the federal and state level. I believe parents are under a fundamental moral obligation to do what’s best for their children. Any system that locks parents and their children into an inferior public education system should be struck down as illegal and unconstitutional. While as a member of Congress I am not encouraging others to follow this path, it is a non-violent and understandable path to a profound injustice in our system.

Any system that locks parents and their children into an inferior public education system should be struck down as illegal and unconstitutional.

I call on Attorney General Eric Holder to ascertain the facts and intervene on behalf of Ms. Williams-Bolar because she represents millions of Americans who recognize the unfairness of an education funding system that is based on local property taxes.

Any system that locks parents and their children into an inferior public education system should be struck down as illegal and unconstitutional

Some might ask, “Congressman, are you calling for breaking the law?” No. However, in “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King said there are two types of laws – just laws and unjust laws. Dr. King wrote:

“At first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’

“Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a manmade code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”

One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’

As Dr. King said, we are not under an obligation to obey unjust laws; we are under obligation to disobey them. Ms. Williams-Bolar, like millions of American parents, has an obligation to provide the best possible education for her children, and any system that keeps her from that is not only morally bankrupt, it should be declared illegal.

This single case symbolizes a national problem – that in America we have a hodge-podge of local public education systems that are separate and unequal. Based on local property taxes, public schools are funded at drastically different levels. As a result, a child in one part of town can expect an exceptional education while kids on the other side of town can be stuck in a downward spiral. It is a problem in Ohio, it is a problem in my district, and it is a problem from coast to coast. And it has to be fixed.

I’ve proposed an amendment to the Constitution that would guarantee every child in America the right to a public education of equal high quality. The amendment would give the Congress the power to implement federal legislation necessary to make equal high quality public education a reality. The Williams-Bolar case demonstrates exactly why that amendment is necessary. Ms. Williams-Bolar’s children deserve as good a public education as the students who attend school in Copley. We must start now to make sure every school district in the country can provide a high quality public education to every child in America.

Congressman Jackson will introduce his Constitutional amendment to guarantee an equal high quality public education – H.J. Res. 29 – in the coming weeks. For more information on the amendment and others that Congressman Jackson has proposed, click here.

Free Kelley Williams-Bolar

Racism in Ohio: 1829, 1878, 2011

by Avenging The Ancestors Coalition (ATAC)

In connection with legislation known as “Black Laws,” Ohio in 1829 evicted Black people from the state within 30 days if they did not pay a $500 bond and did not possess certain legal documents.

And when public education began in Ohio, state lawmakers opposed the use of tax dollars to teach Black children because those legislators did not want Black families to immigrate there. Accordingly, Ohio in 1878 authorized its school district officials to segregate Black children if in the officials’ “judgment it may be for the advantage of the district to do so.” And the state courts twice affirmed segregation as constitutional and actually declared that there is “an … invincible repugnance to … (racial) fellowship” in Ohio.

Fast forward to 2011 – specifically to Jan. 18, when Summit County Common Pleas Court Judge Patricia Cosgrove sentenced a Black, hard-working, college attending, single mother with no criminal record to jail simply for trying to provide a quality education for her 12- and 16-year-old daughters. As a result, that judge and County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh turned Kelley Williams-Bolar into a convicted felon who now could be expelled from the University of Akron, where she is just a few credit hours short of graduating with a teaching degree, who now could lose her job as a teaching assistant working with special-needs children, and who could now be evicted from her public housing apartment.

In addition to the 10-day jail sentence, she was placed on two years’ probation, required to do 80 hours of community service, and could be ordered to pay the Copley-Fairlawn school district $30,500 in reimbursement for the two-year cost of educating her daughters.

Ms. Williams-Bolar was convicted of two felony counts of tampering with records after being arrested in November 2009 and charged with falsely using her father’s Copley Township address in August 2006 while she was living in Akron when she enrolled her two children in a school located in the neighboring predominantly white and higher performing Copley-Fairlawn district where they would get a quality education.

This conviction occurred despite the fact that there were about 40 similar “residency issue” allegations involving other parents during the time this Black mother was being investigated. But as school district officials testified during Ms. Williams-Bolar’s trial, no one else faced criminal prosecution or even civil court action!

Accordingly – because the prosecution, the verdict, and the sentencing were not just plain unfair and not just plain inequitable but also were unconstitutional in violation of the Sixth Amendment (right to an impartial jury), Eighth Amendment (protection from cruel and unusual punishment), and 14th Amendment (right to citizenship thereby overturning the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, right to equal protection as later declared in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, and right to substantive and procedural due process) – I respectfully request the following:

1. Request that Ohio Gov. John Kasich immediately, publicly and officially state his willingness to direct the Adult Parole Authority to unconditionally pardon Ms. Williams-Bolar because, consistent with Ohio law, there are “reasonable grounds to believe that granting a pardon … would further the interests of justice and be consistent with the welfare and security of society.”

Call the governor’s office at (614) 466-3555 and make this request. Also, get the name and title of the person you spoke with.

2. Request that the Ohio Adult Parole Authority immediately, publicly and officially state its willingness to recommend that Gov. John Kasich unconditionally pardon Ms. Williams-Bolar because, consistent with Ohio law, there are “reasonable grounds to believe that granting a pardon … would further the interests of justice and be consistent with the welfare and security of society.”

Call the parole authority at (614) 752-1200 and make this request. Also, get the name and title of the person you spoke with.

3. Request that trial judge Patricia Cosgrove and county prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh make a recommendation to the Adult Parole Authority in favor of the unconditional pardon. An unconditional pardon, as opposed to an expungement, is necessary because an expungement cannot be applied for pursuant to Ohio law until three years after the final discharge of Ms. Williams-Bolar’s two year probation, which is in 2016.

Call the judge at (330) 643-2228 and the prosecutor at (330) 643-2800. Also, get the name and title of the persons you spoke with.

Finally, right after you make these calls, please contact Avenging The Ancestors Coalition (ATAC) via phone at (215) 552-8751 or via email at ATAC@avengingtheancestors.com and provide us with the name, title and office of the persons you spoke with. This will be quite helpful in order to provide us with a record to present to the governor, the parole board, the judge and the prosecutor if necessary.

Visit Avenging The Ancestors Coalition (ATAC), where this story first appeared. ATAC is a broad-based coalition of historians, activists, attorneys, elected officials, religious leaders, media personalities and other tax-paying voters – descendants of the victims of the greatest holocaust in the history of humankind.

Feb. 10 update from ColorofChange.org

by James Rucker

Your voice is making a huge difference in the case of Kelley Williams-Bolar, the Ohio mother who was convicted of a felony after allegedly misleading authorities and sending her children to a school outside her district:

• Since we wrote to you about Williams-Bolar, you and more than 67,000 ColorOfChange.org members have called on Ohio Gov. John Kasich to take a public stand and commit to pardoning Williams-Bolar.

• Last week, Gov. Kasich acknowledged the public outcry about the case and said he’d investigate. Also last week, prosecutors dropped the remaining charges in the case (for grand theft) against Williams-Bolar and her father.

• On Monday, we went to Gov. Kasich’s office to deliver your signatures, along with thousands more from Change.org and MomsRising.org — more than 165,000 signatures in all. The petition delivery was covered by most of the major media in the state capitol, including ABC 6, the Columbus Dispatch and the Associated Press.

• On Tuesday, Gov. Kasich responded by asking the state’s parole board to review Williams-Bolar’s case.

This is an important step towards justice: Before Gov. Kasich can pardon Williams-Bolar, he must receive a recommendation from the parole board. To review her case and make a recommendation, the parole board had to receive a request from the governor or Williams-Bolar herself. Now that Gov. Kasich has made that request, the process for pardoning Williams-Bolar or commuting her sentence can begin.

Our voices are also having an impact beyond this particular case. By speaking out for Kelley Williams-Bolar, we’re also helping to focus the country’s attention on the conditions that put her in this situation: the lack of access to safe, quality education that so many of our children face, and the fact that it’s often rooted in economic and racial inequality.

Gov. Kasich acknowledged the public pressure that led him to take action Tuesday, saying, “Many people have shared their thoughts with me in letters, email and phone calls, and I appreciate their outreach.”

We still don’t know if the parole board will do the right thing. And we need to make sure that Gov. Kasich stays involved and committed to doing everything he can to ensure a just outcome for Kelley Williams-Bolar and her family. But we do know that they are a few steps closer to justice now, and it’s thanks in large part to the voices of ColorOfChange members and our friends at Change.org and MomsRising.org.

ColorOfChange.org exists to strengthen Black America’s political voice. It is comprised of Black folks from every economic class, as well as those of every color who seek to help our voices be heard. Members are united behind a simple, powerful pledge: We will do all we can to make sure all Americans are represented, served and protected — regardless of race or class.