In case you’ve been living in a cocoon, you’re all familiar with the news about Kelley Williams-Bolar, the Summit County mom who a jury unanimously convicted of third-degree tampering with records for enrolling her kids in a school district other than the one she lived in. The case has gotten international attention. Unfortunately, none of that has resulted in an attention to any detail. As a result, a number of “myths” about the case has arisen. I’m going to tackle a number of them first before I get to the issue of whether Governor Kasich should pardon Ms. Williams-Bolar.
I. This case is all about race. If the parents had been white, this predominately white school district wouldn’t have prosecuted.
This was the view predominately offered by this article in Slate. But Akron Beacon Journal columnist Bob Dyer points out that race had nothing to do with it. 28 other African-American families were caught by the school district fraudulently claiming residency within the district without cause and without paying the $800/month tuition charged for out-of-district students. Fifteen caucasian families had been pursued by the district for the same thing. Neither were charged because they either agreed to pay tuition or withdraw their kids.
The only reason Kelley Williams-Bolar was criminally charged at all is because she refused to work with the school district to either withdraw her daughters or start paying tuition. That’s it.
II. Kelley Williams-Bolar is the “Rosa Parks” of the school-choice movement. A mother risking felony prosecution simply to get her kids into a better school district.
This is the kind of racially charged and class warfare rhetoric adopted by Andrew Breibart’s “Big Government” site in an article that was written by, shocker, a pro-voucher/for-profit charter school advocate. There’s a few problems with this analogy.
First, the school district in which her kids should have been enrolled is the same school district she presently works. That wasn’t the issue. Second, as we stated above, Kelley Williams-Bolar could have legally enrolled her daughters into the better school district had she also been willing to accept the economic consequence of that choice and agreed to pay $800/month in tuition.
Third, according to the Akron Beacon Journal, Ms. Williams-Bolar was already eligible for, but never took advantage of, nearly $5,000 for vouchers to send her daughters to a private school.
Fifth, according to the Ohio Department of Education, these are public school districts in Summit County that have been rated as either Excellent or Excellent with distinction that she could have potentially enrolled her daughters at no additional cost to her under their open enrollment plans:
- Barberton City School District
- Coventry Local School District
- Cuyahoga Falls City School District
- Green Local School District
- Manchester Local School District
- Norton City School District
- Stow-Munroe Falls City School District
- Woodridge Local School District
Yep, under existing Ohio law, she could have enrolled her daughters at no additional cost to one of eight possible “excellent” public school districts in her county legally.
Sixth, there’s this whole little problem that even Williams-Bolar says her decision to enroll her daughters had little to do with the quality of the education there. Don’t believe me, then hear it from Williams-Bolar and her attorney herself:
I think that comparison [to Parks] is a bit much because what she was [thinking] was primarily, ‘I need to get my kids into a safe environment,’" Williams-Bolar’s lawyer David Singleton told The Lookout.
"Did she know that the school district that she moved her kids to was better than the one she was in? Yeah, she knew that, but she was not motivated by a desire primarily to get a better education for her children. It was about, ‘How do I keep my kids safe from the violence they may face if they come home when I’m working?’"
Williams-Bolar’s Akron home had been broken into before, and she didn’t want her kids to stay there alone, he said.
”I didn’t feel they would be safe as latchkey children. They were too young to be left alone,” Williams-Bolar told The Beacon Journal in an interview published yesterday. ”I’m not perfect, and I’m not a Rosa Parks. I’m just a mom looking out for her kids.”
So, despite the fact that she had her choices of charter schools, was eligible for up to $5,000 in vouchers for private schools, made her choice due to where her father lived, and had eight quality public schools to choose from that wouldn’t have cost her anything, she’s a poster child of the need for school choice? Seriously, how much more choice did she need?
The reality is that parents in predominantly urban, African-American dominated communities have more educational choice in Ohio than parents in poor, predominately white rural areas. Breibart has it backwards and even if he didn’t then he’d still be wrong. School choice has existed in Ohio for nearly twenty years, and Kelley Williams-Boler did not lack meaningful educational choices from her daughters within the bounds of the law.
Like everything Breibart seems to put out, he’s got his facts totally lined up on this one alright. Kelley Williams-Bolar is a modern day Rosa Parks… if Rosa Parks had waited twenty years after public transportation was desegregated to protest segregation and had committed fraud instead of just keeping her seat on a bus. Other than that, they are TOTALLY the same!
III. The State refused to even offer a misdemeanor in lieu of a felony.
I found this allegation particularly disturbing as an attorney. So I went to the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office website to see what I could find out. They’ve actually put up a FAQ about the case on their website one of the reasons they would reduce a felony to a misdemeanor and why it didn’t apply:
There is sufficient evidence to support the felony charge but the defendant has no prior felony record, has
expressed remorse for her conduct, and has accepted responsibility for her conduct. Also, in a theft case,
we consider the efforts or desire to repay the money.
Ms. Williams Bolar had no prior felony record. However, at no time did she express remorse or accept responsibility for her actions. Nor did she agree to make any restitution for her crimes (a payment plan was offered numerous times). In fact, her behavior was the exact opposite. She knowingly and repeatedly violated the law. She ignored all requests and attempts to resolve her crime with the school system unlike the other families who were similarly situated and chose to do the right thing. A prosecutor cannot, in good conscience and in fairness to all law abiding citizens offer a “plea bargain” to a person who has no regard for the law.
Ms. Williams-Bolar refused to accept responsibility and continues to deny she has done anything wrong even after being found guilty by a jury of her peers. She has publicly stated that if she had the opportunity to do it all over, she would do the same thing again.
In other words, she could have gotten a misdemeanor if she had done that which could have avoided a criminal prosecution in the first place: accept responsibility for what she had done and offered to make restitution. I can’t say I blame the prosecutor if what her office claims is accurate, then.
IV. Her only crime was falsifying records to enroll her kids in school.
Nope. Part of her felony tampering with records charges was that she failed to report her income as a teacher’s aide in the Akron City School District in order to obtain “free” (federally funded) school meals for her children.
V. Her sentence was incredibly harsh.
Says who? After all, this is the first case of this kind, so there’s no real frame of reference except what the law says the potential penalties may be. Regardless, after a three-day trial, and seven hours of deliberations, an unanimous jury of her peers found her guilty of two counts of tampering with records, each third-degree felonies. Her potential sentence was one to five years in prison on each count (and the counts could have potentially ran consecutively.) As third-degree felonies, even with no prior record, there was no legal presumption in favor of probation. She deprived her children’s adopted school district in over $30,000 in revenues from her fraud. Even if she got probation, the maximum term for felony probation is five years.
Despite a potential prison sentence of one to ten years, she got no actual prison time, as far as I can tell was not ordered to pay the school district any restitution, was sentenced to only ten days in jail, and only two years of probation. Not bad for a person who has shown no remorse or taken any responsibility at all for her felony crimes.
I wouldn’t call it a slap on the wrist, but it’s far closer to that (in my experience) than the “outrageous” sentence it’s being treated… especially when you consider that the trial court judge has also already told the Defendant that she’ll consider expunging her conviction and may only have her do six months on probation!
VI. As a result of her felony conviction, Kelley Williams-Bolar may lose her financial aid to college and be denied the teaching license she’s posed to given she’s close to completing her degree requirements.
This is a gross overstatement of the actual risks. The trial judge herself notes that the Ohio Board of Education may not grant Williams-Bolar a teaching license as a result of her felony conviction, but they aren’t required to deny her license simply because of this felony conviction. Again, a felony conviction Williams-Bolar could have easily avoided on multiple occasions. Regardless, the Ohio State Board of Education is unlikely to deny her license a) because of the public attention her case has already received, and b) the trial judge is committed to supporting her application by writing the Board of Education on her behalf.
The risk of her losing financial aid is substantially less than her license. They are within the realm of the technically possible, but largely unlikely scenarios. But again, who’s fault is that really?
VII. Kelley Williams-Bolar is deserving of a pardon.
Well, first, let me point out that Rosa Parks has yet to be officially pardoned.
Second, generally, pardons are only given to people who admit their guilty and seek atonement of their crimes and have demonstrated a crime-free life for a significant period of time. So far, Williams-Bolar has not accepted responsiblity for her crimes and is seeking avoidance of the consequences of her conviction, nothing more. Also, pardons are rare and ordinarily only given after years… say decades, of law-abiding behavior. The few pardons Strickland issued went to folks who spent decades demonstrating that they lived productive and crime-free lives after something as minor as being convicted of felony drug possession. They are never given to folks who don’t admit what they did is wrong, and where there is conversely no evidence that the conviction was fundamentally flawed. So why should Williams-Bolar be considered immediately a candidate for a pardon despite not completing her sentence and showing no remorse? Because P. Diddy said so?
Even if it appears that the Ohio State Board of Education is poised to deny Williams-Bolar a teaching license as a result of her felony convictions, it would be unusual for a Governor to issue a pardon so soon after a lawful conviction. However, the Ohio Constitution really places no limits on Governor’s clemency powers. He’s free to pardon her anytime he desires.
However, the Governor also has the power to make his pardon conditional. If Governor Kasich were to consider giving such a pardon, it should be conditioned that the $30,000 in lost tuition the district was cheated out of be repaid. That would, to me, be a fair result instead of just pardoning her unconditionally to avoid any risk of the felony conviction she obtained after playing a game of legal chicken with the State of Ohio and losing.
Will P. Diddy financially contribute to that cause, then?