Crimes of Education
I’ve been getting a lot of e-mail asking for my thoughts about Kelley Williams-Bolar, the woman here in Ohio who was recently sentenced to to ten days in prison (of which apparently she served nine) and now has a felony record because she and her father listed the father’s residence as the primary residence of her children, in order that the kids could go to school in a better school district. As I understand it, idea here is that because she didn’t live in the district and pay taxes there, she committed fraud, although from what I understand the jury wouldn’t or couldn’t convict on that charge and instead she was found guilty of tampering with court documents. Ironically Ms. Williams-Bolar is not that far off from getting a teaching credential, which she now may not be able to use because she’s a felon.
How do I feel about this? Well, I will tell you a true story. When I was in sixth grade, my mother and her then-husband broke up, and in the space of three months I lived in four different houses in three different cities, and in three different school districts. The school district I had been in when this all started had a genuinely excellent “gifted and talented” program, and my teacher at the time, Keith Johnson, was one of those teachers that you’re lucky to get once in your entire life. I’d been at the school for a couple of years and I had friends who I still have now. And, not to put too fine a point on it, the breakup of my mother and her husband wasn’t exactly out of the blue, and the school and the people who were there who cared about me were an island of stability in a life which was, though no fault of my own, completely messed up.
When my mother left our house and moved, taking me and my sister with her, what she should have done, procedurally speaking, was take me out of that school and put me in a new one, in the city we then lived in. And then two months and two moves later, when we were in a new city and new school district entirely, she should have done it again, giving me three different schools, three sets of schoolmates and three entirely different social situations to adapt to on top of the fact that my family and home life had just been blown up.
She did do was no such thing. Through four moves, three cities and three school districts I stayed in the same class with the same teacher and the same friends and classmates. How my mother managed to do this is something she would have to tell you, but in point of fact I know that officially — and, I suspect, legally — speaking I was not supposed to have been allowed to stay there. My mother made the decision to do what she thought was better for me rather than what was probably the letter of the law.
Did my mother break the law doing what she did? I don’t know, but possibly. Did she break the rules? She certainly did. Did she do right thing? Probably not, from the point of view of the procedures of the school district. From the point of view of what was best for her child: Absolutely. There’s really no doubt about that. And if in fact my mother broke the law on my behalf way back when, I can say that doing so made a positive difference at a critical time in my life.
So: How do I feel about Ms. Williams-Bolar? Basically, I think she deserves a prison term and a felony conviction about as much as my mother did, for performing essentially the same actions, thirty years ago.