Kelley Williams-Bolar, alarmed after her home was broken into, yanked her two daughters out of their urban Akron, Ohio, schools and enrolled them in her father’s suburban school district nearby, using his address.
That way, said the single mom and teacher’s aide, they could come to a safer home after school.
Her peace of mind proved costly. Officials in the Copley-Fairlawn district challenged the residency of her girls in 2007, when they were 9 and 13 years old. Williams-Bolar was charged and convicted of felony records tampering.
Not only was she jailed last month for nine days, but the conviction threatens her efforts to earn a teacher’s license and could jeopardize her job as a teacher’s aide. She plans to appeal.
Her case has become a rallying point for advocates of school choice and it has outraged residents in her northeast Ohio community–some because of her dishonesty, others for the severity of her prosecution.
“My kids are not latchkey kids,” said Williams-Bolar, who had no choice but to re-enroll her daughters in Akron schools two years ago. “I am a mother, and I want to make sure my kids are safe, and I want to make sure that they’re educated.”
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Her prosecution and incarceration are a high-profile example of how schools are getting tougher on parents who sneak their children into other districts, usually better-funded and higher-performing schools. Districts are fighting back, having students followed by private investigators, fining or pressing criminal charges against their parents–even sending them to jail.
The cases raise questions about school funding disparities and pit parents’ pursuit of better academics or safer hallways against schools’ interests in protecting their funding and quality.
There’s little data that tracks how many parents register students using false addresses or those of relatives in violation of state, city or school regulations, but districts from New Hampshire to Texas to California report that it’s a problem. Jailing parents isn’t common.