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Kelley Williams-Bolar: Criminal, good mom… or both?

Kelley Williams-Bolar, a 40-year-old Akron, Ohio, mom of two, was just released from jail after serving a ten day sentence for being convicted of a felony — specifically, falsifying residency records. Now that she has served her jail sentence, she will be on probation for three years and must complete 80 hours of community service. Williams-Bolar falsified records to send her children to a school in a different district, and the outcome of this case has people on both sides of the fence very emotionally stirred up.

HandcuffsThe Background

From August 2006 to June 2008, Williams-Bolar’s two children attended school at Copley-Fairlawn. Williams-Bolar and her children lived in subsidized housing that was provided by the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority in Akron, Ohio, outside of the Copley-Fairlawn district.

However, she registered her children for school at Copley-Fairlawn by claiming that they lived with their grandfather. Edward Williams lived in Coley Township, which placed him in the school district. Copley-Fairlawn school is a better and higher ranked school than the one in Williams-Bolar’s district.

School officials discovered that the children did not live in the district and began sending Williams-Bolar bills each month for over $800. The district claims she ignored the bills. They hired a private investigator, who district officials state filmed Williams-Bolar dropping her children off at a bus stop near her father’s house.

The crime…and punishment

In the end, the school district asserted that Williams-Bolar owed $30,500 in tuition and that she falsified records. Prosecutors charged Williams-Bolar with several felony counts of grand theft and tampering with records. The jury deliberated for over seven hours and eventually convicted her of two felony counts of tampering with records.

The judge in the case handed down the maximum sentence possible: Five years for each of the tampering convictions, to run concurrently. She then suspended the almost all of the sentence and ordered Williams-Bolar to serve ten days in jail as well as well as 80 hours of community service.

Greater implications

Williams-Bolar says that she is one semester away from graduating with her teaching degree. The felony convictions are quite impacting to her — under Ohio law, her ability to receive her teacher’s license has been threatened, at a minimum.

The judge in her case was quoted as saying, “‘Because of the felony conviction, you will not be allowed to get your teaching degree under Ohio law as it stands today…The court’s taking into consideration that is also a punishment that you will have to serve.”

Furthermore, Williams-Bolar is currently a teacher’s assistant and her position is in jeopardy.

Hot topic

The Internet is abuzz with commentary criticizing the county for prosecuting Williams-Bolar with the felonies and the judge for handing down such a harsh sentence.

The judge in the case, Patricia Cosgrove, has since stated that prosecutors refused to reduce the charges to misdemeanors. In an interview, Cosgrove stated, “”The state would not move, would not budge, and offer Ms. Williams-Bolar to plead to a misdemeanor…Of course, I can’t put a gun to anybody’s head and force the state to offer a plea bargain.”

At the same time, plenty of people feel that Williams-Bolar received exactly what she deserved — punishment for breaking the law.

Support for Williams-Bolar

Many people assert that the case is an issue of race and class. Dr. Boyce Watkins, a national speaker and Syracuse University professor, writes on his blog, “[I]t’s interesting how courts find it convenient to make someone into an example when they happen to be poor and black. I’d love to see how they prosecute wealthy white women who commit the same offense. Oh, I forgot: Most wealthy white women don’t have to send their kids to the schools located near the projects.”

He further states, “This case is a textbook example of everything that remains racially wrong with America’s educational, economic and criminal justice systems.”

Others agree. “This is a perversion of ‘justice’. America truly is the land of opportunity…only if you’re rich of course,” wrote a commenter on a Gawker article covering the issue.

A crime is a crime

Many people feel that Williams-Bolar committed a crime and received punishment for it. Beacon Journal columnist Bob Dyer says, “Williams-Bolar’s bottom line was this: She wanted a better life for her kids. Any rational parent does. And most of us would go to great lengths to achieve that. In fact, if it came down to my children eating or starving, I would probably engage in armed robbery. But I wouldn’t expect a judge to go easy on me if I did. You are not entitled to steal just because you want a better life for your children. Period.”

What you said

His sentiments are echoed by scores of individuals. Another commenter on the Gawker article simply said, “Break the law, go to jail. I thought that’s the way it always worked.”

What do you think?

How do you feel about the charges that were brought against Williams-Bolar, the conviction and the sentence? Was it all warranted? Did the punishment fit the crime?

If you were in Williams-Bolar’s position, would you do the same thing to send your kids to a better school?

Share your opinion in the comment section below.

Kelly Williams-Bolar interview

Check out this clip of Williams-Bolar, speaking to a reporter.

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