COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Parole Board on Friday unanimously recommended that Governor John Kasich not pardon Kelley Williams-Bolar, of Akron, the Black mother who sent her children to a predominantly white school district.
In January of this year the mother of two was sentenced to 10 days in jail and placed on three years probation by Judge Patricia Cosgrove after sending her kids to a school district where her father, the children’s grandfather lived. She served nine days of the sentence.
The board said Williams-Bolar could have solved her schooling situation legitimately and was dishonest before and after her conviction.
“Ms. Williams-Bolar was faced with a no more difficult situation than any other working parent who must ensure that their children are safe during, before and after school hours in their absence,” it said in its unanimous ruling.”Most parents find legitimate and legal options to address this issue. Ms. Williams-Bolar’s only response was to be deceitful.”
The board also rejected Williams-Bolar’s arguments that her conviction harmed her future plans, noting that she has hardly made the efforts necessary to obtain a degree to teach.
A crying Williams-Bolar had told the parole board in July that she was remorseful for lying and would do things differently if given the chance.
“I love my kids and I would have done anything for my children,” an emotional Williams-Bolar told the board.
An attorney for Williams-Bolar said Friday he was disappointed but confident that Gov. John Kasich, who has the final say, will see things differently.
“Justice will ultimately prevail,” David Singleton, executive director of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, said in an email.
The executive director of the citizen coalition ColorOfChange.org, which petitioned for Williams-Bolar’s pardon, said the group will lobby Kasich as he makes his decision.
“The ColorOfChange.org community was deeply moved by the story of Kelley Williams-Bolar. Many parents all around the country would act just as she did if it meant a safe, secure experience for their children and peace of mind with regard to their education,” Executive Director Rashad Robinson said. “The parole board’s lack of empathy is astounding, and now the decision rests fully with Gov. Kasich.”
Prosecutors defended the felony charges, saying Williams-Bolar willingly broke the law by using her father’s address and misrepresenting other information on school documents for the nearby Copley-Fairlawn district. Officials there challenged her girls’ residency in 2007, when they were 9 and 13 years old.
Summit County chief assistant prosecutor Brad Gessner told the parole board that Williams-Bolar engaged in a pattern of deception when it came to falsifying documents. Gessner said she had options when school officials questioned her about her residency but instead changed her address on her driver’s license and bank and employment documents.
Williams-Bolar’s older daughter now attends an Akron public high school, while her younger daughter got a voucher to go to a private middle school. Williams-Bolar continues to work as a teacher’s assistant at Akron public schools.
Kasich asked the parole board to hold the clemency hearing, but he has the last word.
The case drew national attention as a high-profile example of schools getting tougher on parents who improperly send their children to other districts, usually with better-funded and higher-performing schools. Some people were outraged by Williams-Bolar’s dishonesty. Others believed her prosecution and punishment were too severe.
Kasich has used the case to highlight expanded access to educational alternatives, including vouchers, and it became a rallying point for advocates of school choice.
Williams-Bolar, a single mother, said safety was her main concern when she enrolled her daughters in the Copley-Fairlawn district. She said she was worried about leaving her daughters alone because someone had broken into her home.
Parole board members asked her whether she had considered moving in with her father or having a neighbor watch her children on the days she attended night classes. They also raised questions about whether she had looked into voucher programs.
Singleton has acknowledged that his client had made mistakes, including writing on a bill from the school that she was deployed overseas even though she is not in the military.
The district’s superintendent has said it was enforcing its enrollment policy. Since 2005, Copley-Fairlawn resolved conflicts with at least 47 other families over illegal student attendance but was unable to reach a resolution with Williams-Bolar and was forced to turn the case over to prosecutors, district officials said.