Just WRONG: mom jailed for sending kids to school

2011/01/25

The whole story is here, but the short of it is this:

In an effort to get her daughters into a better public school, Akron, Ohio mother Kelley Williams-Bolar claimed the girls lived at their father’s residence instead of the projects. Apparently, this is quite illegal in Akron, as the woman was jailed for 10 days, sentenced to 3 years of probation and, worst of all, could permanently lose her opportunity to realize her dreams of becoming a teacher herself due to this felony conviction.

I’m not really going to defend her actions or cry racism (yes, Ms. Williams-Bolar is black)…plenty of other people doing that for me. And while part of me wants to join in, the truth is that she still broke the law, and it’s not quite as light a matter as it looks at first glance.

This particular school system is set up so that it’s directly funded by the local tax base.  Consequently, the state’s position on the case is that Williams-Bolar effectively defrauded the system to get a better education for her kids.

I can see the state’s point. But I’m certainly not going to defend that point, either, because in this system the result is that poor districts are considerably less well-funded than wealthier ones. Added to the myriad of social issues faced by such schools, it’s hard to fault a parent for gaming the system.

There are a few lessons here to ponder:

  • Two “wrongs” still don’t make a “right.” Too often, people try to take ethical shortcuts to get what they want. Even if it’s a noble goal like getting your children better-educated, the ends don’t justify any amount of cheating to get it done. Just because “everyone does it” doesn’t make it right.
  • This goes double for black folks. Eventually, the system will reassert its authority. When an example is then made, it’s the poor and the minority who are likely to take the brunt of it. We need to walk in excellence and integrity so that we are beyond reproach.
  • School choice should be a given! Why should poor families be utterly locked by law into underperforming public schools? Why do teachers’ unions fight so tooth-and-nail against choice-based reforms? (And, even under the current system, why can’t a split-residence family like Williams-Bolar’s claim a preferred district? The taxes are still being paid by the students’ parents.)

The judge who sentenced Williams-Bolar is getting personally involved to try to ensure the mom won’t be barred from starting her teaching career, so maybe there’ll be an eventual happy ending to this bit of unjust justice.

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