Dr. Boyce: Jailing A Mother For Sending Kids To Wrong School District?

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An Ohio mother of two was sentenced to 10 days in jail and placed on three years probation after sending her kids to a school district in which they did not live.  Kelly Williams-Bolar was sentenced by Judge Patricia Cosgrove on Tuesday and will begin serving her sentence immediately.

The jury deliberated for seven hours and the courtroom was packed as the sentence was handed down.  She was convicted on two counts of tampering with court records after registering her two girls as living with their father when they actually lived with her.  The family lived in the housing projects in Akron, Ohio, and the father’s address was in nearby Copley Township.

Additionally, Williams-Bolar’s father, Edward L. Williams, was charged with a fourth-degree felony of grand theft, in which he and his daughter are charged with defrauding the school system for two years of educational services for their girls.  The court determined that sending their children to the wrong school was worth $30,500 in tuition.

When I read about this case, a few thoughts went through my mind.  First, it’s clear that the court is trying to make Kelly Williams-Bolar into an example.  Even the judge in the case, Patricia Cosgrove, said that her sentence was appropriate ”so that others who think they might defraud the school system perhaps will think twice.”

Secondly, it’s interesting how courts find it convenient to make someone into an example when they happen to be poor and black.  I’d love to see how they prosecute wealthy white women who commit the same offense.  Oh, I forgot: Most wealthy white women don’t have to send their kids to the schools located near the projects.

Third, I’m not sure why the court is treating this law-abiding mom like a thug who ran into a building with a shotgun and robbed the district of $30,000.  Instead, they could simply subtract the amount it costs for her kids to go to the second school from the amount that would be spent for them to attend the first one.  I’m sure the difference would still be substantial, since American educational apartheid dictates that schools in poorer neighborhoods are of significantly less quality than other schools.  The racial divisions within American schools are nothing less than a blatant and consistent human rights violation and should certainly be treated as such.

A final interesting blow by Judge Cosgrove that reflects the experience of marginalized African Americans in the criminal justice system relates to Williams-Bolar’s quest to obtain a teaching degree.  The single mother was in school studying to become a teacher so that she could create a better life for her girls.  But that won’t happen for her family now, given that the judge has all but shut the door on her chance to fulfill her dream:

”Because of the felony conviction, you will not be allowed to get your teaching degree under Ohio law as it stands today,” the judge said. ”The court’s taking into consideration that is also a punishment that you will have to serve.”

This case is a textbook example of everything that remains racially wrong with America’s educational, economic and criminal justice systems.  Let’s start from the top: Had Ms. Williams-Bolar been white, she likely would never have been prosecuted for this crime in the first place (I’d love for them to show me a white woman in that area who’s gone to jail for the same crime).  She also is statistically not as likely to be living in a housing project with the need to break an unjust law in order to create a better life for her daughters.   Being black is also correlated with the fact that Williams-Bolar likely didn’t have the resources to hire the kinds of attorneys who could get her out of this mess (since the average black family’s wealth is roughly 1/10 that of white families).  Finally, economic inequality is impactful here because that’s the reason that Williams-Bolar’s school district likely has fewer resources than the school she chose for her kids.  In other words, black people have been historically robbed of our economic opportunities, leading to a two-tiered reality that we are then imprisoned for attempting to alleviate.  That, my friends, is American Racism 101.

This case is a textbook example of how racial-inequality created during slavery and Jim Crow continues to cripple our nation to this day.  There is no logical reason on earth why this mother of two should be dehumanized by going to jail and be left permanently marginalized from future economic and educational opportunities.  Even if you believe in the laws that keep poor kids trapped in underperforming schools, the idea that this woman should be sent to jail for demanding educational access is simply ridiculous.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  To have Dr. Boyce articles delivered to your email, please click here.

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