OH Governor Reduces Mom's Convictions for Sending Kids to Wrong School

5 years ago

This update in the case of Akron, Ohio mother, Kelley Williams-Bolar is bound to produce as much discussion as the original post by Shannon LC Cate did this past January. In "Mother Convicted of Felony for Sending Kids to a Better School," Shannon gives good voice to the race, class and parenting issues that surround Williams-Bolar's choices as they related to her children's safety and education when she used her children's father's address so that they could attend a better school. In fact, for many people, though by no means all, Williams-Bolar's situation embodied the plight of a minority single parent who, for her admitted desire to keep her two daughters safe, took actions that went against the law.

Yesterday, the social media campaign for clemency, which endured for months on Twitter, Facebook and Change.org, concluded when Ohio Governor John Kasich (R), issued this statement. In it, he grants leniency and says:

“When I first heard about this situation, it seemed to me that the penalty was excessive for the offense. In addition, the penalty could exclude her from certain economic opportunities for the rest of her life. So, today I’ve reduced those felony convictions to what I think are the more appropriate, first degree misdemeanors. No one should interpret this as a pass -- it’s a second chance,” said Kasich.


Kasich’s commutation specifies that Williams-Bolar’s sentence is reduced to not more than 180 days in jail -- the maximum penalty for a first-degree misdemeanor -- and retains the Court’s conditions that all but 10 days be suspended, as long as she complies with the Court’s original nine provisions:

  • Report to the Adult Probation Department, pay a $20-per-month fee, and abide by the department’s regulations;
  • Refrain from offensive conduct of every nature and obey all laws;
  • Serve 10 days in the Summit County Jail, with credit for one day previously served;
  • Complete 80 hours community service;
  • Complete a mentorship through the NAACP or her church and write the Court a letter upon completion;
  • Maintain permanent full-time employment and/or attend school;
  • Do not consume any illegal drugs or chemicals, including any alcoholic beverages;
  • Submit to random and frequent urinalysis testing; and
  • Pay the costs of prosecution as directed by the Adult Probation Department.

Kasich's decision outright defied the Ohio Parole Board's unanimous recommendation that no reduction of any type be provided in Williams-Bolar's case. You can read the report in its entirety here. It is 16 pages long -- though obviously not as persuasive as it is detailed, given the governor's decision.

I got to address this case a couple of months ago in a very public way -- while serving on a local televised political roundtable show. Among three of us on one panel -- all parents, one white male who reports on the Akron area, one African-American NE Ohio journalist and myself -- there was a multitude of thoughts and emotions. The main things we agreed upon were that she lied, that her primary concern was her children's safety (she even repeated this to the parole board) and that her case, while not the best standard-bearer of the problems with Ohio's education system, had served to highlight a whole lot of problems that would not get the same kind of attention they had if not for her case. These include, but are not limited to: the legal system, the education system, the way the legal system deals with the education system, and then overlay class, race and parenting on top of all that.

Then, add the temporal factor that Governor Kasich was under extreme pressure for having an abyssmal record (still does) in bringing any diversity into his then very new and not fully formed administration. So the politics got laid on top of all of the above.

Because I'm here in Ohio and follow so many of these issues so closely, it is very hard to not be cynical and skeptical about a whole of things that went on in this case. I also know two people on the Akron City School Board (which has very clearly stated that Williams-Bolar will have a place of employment with them). And as an elected official, and a mother of three kids in public schools, I get the issues about laws intended to make sure that district dollars go toward district kids and I get the existential (for me, but of course not existential for so many parents across our country) parenting issue: how far would you go for your kids' safety? for their education? their well-being? their future?

There are so many pressure points here to choose from, in terms of where to place pressure next, so let's hear it: on the school district? on the safety forces? on law enforcement? on the state legislature? on the state school board? on the state education department? on the people who can create jobs? back onto the governor for a more permanent solution?

All of the above?

Additional fodder:

On Black and Married With Kids, "Ohio Gov. Pardons Mom Kelley Williams-Bolar In School District Switching Case"

From Colorlines, "Ohio Gov. Kasich Reduces Charges for Kelley Williams-Bolar"

The Crunk Feminist Collective, "Update: Justice for Kelley Williams-Bolar!"


Jill Writes Like She Talks

In The Arena: Jill Miller Zimon, Pepper Pike City Council Member

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