The families, Board members and staff in the school district of Copley-Fairlawn in Akron, Ohio can sleep better at nights knowing that the threat of two female African American students attending a school in their overwhelmingly white school district has been removed. The Copley-Fairlawn school district removed that threat with a vengeance and the whole law and order weight of the American justice system. On January 18, 2011 an African American woman Kelly Williams-Bolar who sent her two daughters to a school in the mostly white school district was sentenced to 10 days in jail, two years of probation and ordered to perform 80 hours of community service.
Essentially her crime was sending her two African American children to a school in an overwhelmingly white district while having a home in public housing. Willams-Bolar’s 64 year old father Edward Williams 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." He maintains that his daughter and grand-daughters lived at his home during the two years the girls attended school in the Copley-Fairlawn school district. In an interview with WJW-TV he was quoted: "She had 12 police reports that her house had been broken in, so what am I supposed to do? Just leave them there? I mean, I can protect them better if they was with me."
Now that the African American single mother is a convicted felon her employment as a teacher’s assistant at a secondary school is at risk and she has no hope of working as a teacher because of her recently acquired criminal record. It could have been much worse but the very kind and considerate judge who handed down a sentence of five years in prison for each of the two felony counts to be served concurrently, in consideration of the African American mother’s lack of a police record, suspended the sentence and placed her on probation for two years. However, this good white woman, Common Pleas Judge Patricia Cosgrove who sat in judgment of the African American woman felt that some jail time was appropriate in the case and she sentenced the defendant to 10 days in the Summit County Jail. The judge even empathized: “I understand trying to do the best for your children, but the ends don’t justify the means” and sympathized: "Because of the felony conviction, you will not be allowed to get your teaching degree under Ohio law as it stands today, the court's taking into consideration that is also a punishment that you will have to serve."
Apparently this long and winding road to becoming a convicted felon is paved with good intentions; the good intentions of an African American woman determined to ensure the safety of her two young daughters and “avoid a latch-key situation.” In a supposed post-racial society this mother whose home in a government subsidized housing project had been burglarized several times decided to move with her children into her father’s home in an overwhelmingly white and considerably safer suburban neighbourhood and was punished with a jail sentence and criminal record. One newspaper reported that her father had suffered a stroke at the time and she was his sole caretaker. Her daughters were 8 and 12 years old at the time and she was employed as a teacher’s assistant studying to become a teacher. Living in her father’s home she enrolled her daughters in a school in the local school district which is overwhelmingly white so of course the two little African American girls attracted the attention of all and sundry.
At some point between August 2006 and November 2009 when she was arrested on multiple felony charges this woman must have spent some time in her home in the subsidized Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority project but she and her father maintain that his home was also her residence. It is not hard to understand that not feeling safe in a home that had been burglarized a few times but not wanting to entirely lose the home, she would have returned with some trepidation but maintained residency in the safer neighbourhood (her father’s residence.) It is also not difficult to understand that since this mother was working full time and attending university at night she would not have left her daughters alone in an apartment in an unsafe neighbourhood but at their grandfather’s home, proving that it was a legitimate residence for them to attend school in the district.
Even the 64 year old grandfather has not escaped the long and heavy law and order arm of the American justice system. This African American grandfather who “colluded” in ensuring his grandchildren’s safety was found guilty in a joint trial with his daughter and is awaiting his sentencing. Probably the very family oriented system decided that they should not send mother and grandfather to jail at the same time thus leaving the children to the tender mercies of the state’s “child protection” services. So it is possible that the grandfather will be sentenced to jail now that his daughter has served her time.
The mother has maintained that sending her children to the Copley-Fairlawn schools was not based on a belief of her children receiving a better education in suburbia; however the records show that in wealthy, overwhelmingly white suburbs, children study in brand new schools which lack nothing, in personnel, equipment or support needed for a high quality education while poor, mostly racialized children study in de-facto segregated, poorly equipped and overcrowded inner city schools. The 2009-2010 report card issued for the school the elder daughter attended in the Copley-Fairlawn school district has it designated as “Excellent with Distinction.” The 2009-2010 report card issued for the school the younger daughter attended has it designated as “Excellent.” Other terms used to describe the schools in the Copley-Fairlawn school district are “high performing” and “highly ranked” while schools in the lower income areas are often described as “dropout factories” and “failure mills.” The school district spent about $6,000 to pursue the African American mother and grandfather eventually bringing them to a criminal trial, a sum that included hiring a private investigator to monitor and videotape the movements of the mother and her children.
This case was the first residency challenge to reach a criminal courtroom although at the trial school district officials testified that some 30 to 40 similar residency issues had arisen with other families during the two years (2006-2008) the two Williams-Bolar daughters attended school in the district. No one else faced criminal prosecution or civil court action, the school officials said. Not surprisingly the prosecutor's office refused to consider reducing the charges to misdemeanors during numerous pretrial meetings to resolve the case outside of court which would have at least prevented the threat to the mother's job and to her hopes of becoming a school teacher.
Since the trial and jail sentence there has been much support for the family including at least two sets of petitions. There have also been several articles written in support of the family including one entitled Parenting While Black: Ohio Woman Jailed for "Stealing an Education" where the writer commented: ''If Ms. Williams and her children had been white would the school have gone to this trouble to expose them as supposed 'criminals?' and this comment on one blog: "It's interesting that the judge wanted to send her to jail for her crime, but there are Wall Street execs who got less time for stealing millions."
A coalition of activist groups delivered 165,000 signatures collected from around the country Governor John Kasich on Monday, February 7, 2011 urging him to pardon Kelley Williams-Bolar. The groups seeking Governor John Kasich's pardon for 40-year-old Kelley Williams-Bolar are ColorOfChange.org, Change.org and Moms-Rising.org. Iris Roley, a member of ColorofChange.org and chairwoman of the Cincinnati NAACP, said the groups believe the case highlights inequities in Ohio's education system.
However, the persecution of this African American family continues. A new attorney has been appointed to represent the father of Kelley Williams-Bolar in connection with two felony charges that were severed from the joint trial of Williams-Bolar and her 64 year old father last month (January 2011.)
Edward L. Williams was accompanied by a court-appointed lawyer, Joe E. Perry, during an appearance on Wednesday morning (February 9, 2011) before Summit County Common Pleas Judge Patricia A. Cosgrove. Williams was required to fill out a sworn affidavit of indigency and answer a series of questions in open court before Cosgrove appointed Perry as his lawyer. Cosgrove set April 19 as the trial date for Edward L. Williams.