Schools boost efforts to ID fake student addresses

“I must say this is the first case I’ve ever heard of where somebody has been arrested,” said Susan Gates, a senior economist who studies education issues at the RAND Corporation.

Copley-Fairlawn Superintendent Brian Poe said his district “has taken a certain amount of heat,” with critics saying it should educate all children. “That’s not the law in the state of Ohio, and that’s not our board policy.”

Recent letters to the Akron Beacon Journal capture high emotions on both sides of the issue. Hundreds of Williams-Bolar supporters recently rallied with the Rev. Al Sharpton, calling for her exoneration.

“To take a viable human being and cast her aside like a dangerous criminal again proves that the American justice system is only just for some people–certainly not poor, black and struggling members of society,” wrote Mary L. Tabatcher of Mogadore.

But Donna Blair of Akron was sharply critical.

“Shame on Kelley Williams-Bolar,” Blair wrote. “We all want what’s best for our kids, but should we commit crimes to get them the best? The message she sent to her kids was that it’s OK to lie, cheat, and steal.”

The newspaper reported this week that one lawmaker is preparing legislation that would allow children to enroll in school districts where their grandparents live.

Around the country, transfers between districts are allowed in most places if both districts agree, with some requiring the home district to pay tuition to the receiving district, said Michael Griffith, a senior policy analyst with the nonprofit, nonpartisan Education Commission of the States in Denver. Problems occur when parents seeking better academics, elite sports teams or safer environments falsify records or say students live with relatives or in rental homes when they don’t.

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Cases typically are resolved when a parent moves a student out, changes homes or pays tuition, but a few end up in court. Since 2005, Copley-Fairlawn has resolved conflicts with 47 other families over illegal student attendance.

Education officials say cases tend to surface more when budgets are tight and in areas where there are significant disparities between districts such as in academic success or local income level–particularly in wealthier districts near urban areas. That often means the districts in question also have racial disparities.

Williams-Bolar’s attorney, Kerry O’Brien, raised the issue of race at one point in court papers, saying that because her client is black, the case raises the specter of “improper racial segregation and prosecution.”

Meris Stansbury

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