*Being a good parent is the hardest job a person ever will have. It’s a responsibility that starts with the best intentions. Yet, some people soon realize it takes more effort, time and money than they have to give. That seemed to be the case with Kelley Williams-Bolar. She’s the Akron, Ohio woman who used her father’s suburban address to enroll her two daughters in a better school district. When she got caught and refused to repay the $30,000 suburban school officials said she owned them, she later was convicted of a felony and sentenced to ten days behind bars. Now the aspiring educator might never get the chance to teach.
The apparently single mother lived in public housing in an urban school district where the quality of education was less than desirable. It’s a comparison that could be drawn between most urban and suburban school districts across the country. And it’s another example of how something as fundamental as public education can become so inequitable.
Federal law requires parents to make sure their children ages 5 to 16 receive a full-time education suitable to their needs. For most children that means attending school on a regular basis. And as a last resort, schools and local authorities have legal power to enforce regular attendance. But what happens when the quality of public education provided is unsuitable for the needs of those students who essentially are forced to attend? Some families who realize their disadvantage, but financially are ill-prepared to move within a better school district or pay for private school education, choose to do what Williams-Bolar did. Most parents, if put in the same situation, would do the same.
Extinuating circumstances must have kept Williams-Bolar and her two daughters from moving in with her father, which would have kept her from catching a case in the first place. Even after charges were filed against the mother, a good attorney should have been able to keep her out of jail. But’s it’s clear suburban school officials wanted to make an example of Williams-Bolar whom they paid a private investigator to follow. She’s the one who got caught, but probably not the only one doing it.
Those suburan school officials simply could have expeled the two girls, fined the mother a reasonable amount and left well-enough alone. But since they took it to the next level, Williams-Bolar should give them a fight they won’t forget: She should file a class-action lawsuit to determine whether the school board in her home district provides a “suitable education for the needs of the students” as the law mandates. Does it provide equal access to the best technology, teaching staff and thus the opportunity to excel? How are tax dollars distributed for education there? And how are students expected to excel in the classroom if the atmosphere is rife with disturbance?
It is easier to remove your child from the subpar environment and sneak in the back door of the so-called “good school,” but sometimes you have to stay and fight for the good cause. Holding the school board accountable to their own rules would improve public education for all students and show her girls a more noble way to get the quality education they deserve.
Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Send questions, comments or requests for speaking engagements to Steffanie at [email protected]. And see the video version of her journal at www.youtube.com/steffanierivers.