Ohio woman: Remorseful for school residency lies

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Posted: Jul 20, 2011 5:11 PM
Ohio woman: Remorseful for school residency lies

An Ohio woman jailed after using her father's address to enroll her children in a neighboring school district told the state parole board on Wednesday that she's remorseful for lying and would do things differently if given the chance.

Kelley Williams-Bolar, 41, of Akron, served nine days in jail for falsifying information on records that were used to send her daughters to a suburban school outside their urban district. She said her conviction for felony records tampering threatens her efforts to earn a teacher's license.

"I love my kids and I would have done anything for my children," said Williams-Bolar, who at times got emotional before the Ohio Parole Board.

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 had 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.

"Ms. Bolar refused to come to any agreement with the school system," Gessner said. "She took the case every direction except to a conclusion."

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, while her attorneys appeal her case.

Gov. John Kasich requested the clemency hearing before the parole board, which will recommend whether he should pardon her. Kasich has the final say.

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, and 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.

"Looking back on it, I wish I could have done things differently," Williams-Bolar said.

Gessner said had she told the truth, the outcome would have been different.

"While most of us would go to the ends of the earth for our children, most of us know we have to do that within the confines of the law," Gessner told the board.

The district does not have open enrollment, meaning students either must be residents or pay tuition to attend.

David Singleton, an attorney for Williams-Bolar, acknowledged that his client has made mistakes, including writing on a bill from the school that she was deployed overseas. She is not in the military, he said.

"I should have never wrote that," Williams-Bolar said. "That was horrible. That was wrong."

The district's superintendent has said it was enforcing its enrollment policy and that 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.

Singleton, of the Ohio Policy and Justice Center, has said he doesn't think race was a factor in her arrest, but believes it was driven by her inability to reimburse the district _ something that wealthier families could do quietly and put the matter behind them, while she ended up with a felony conviction.

Asked directly by a board member whether she thought she was treated unfairly because of her race, Williams-Bolar said: "I cannot answer that. I just know that my situation happened for what I did. ... I don't think it happened because of the color of my skin."

Singleton said the idea that her case had to do with race was largely a creation of the media and activists who saw a chance to make a political point.

"This was not about being the Rosa Parks of education," Singleton told the board.

The panel also heard Wednesday from attorneys and Williams-Bolar's friends, family and neighbors.

It's the parole board members' policy to deliver a report to the governor no later than 60 days, though they likely will give him their recommendation sooner.

Williams-Bolar has about 18 months of probation left to serve.

Several board members raised questions about why she should be pardoned when she was still being punished.

Singleton said he recognized the unusual timing and added the hearing was spurred by Kasich. Though, he said, his client has served time in jail, and a felony conviction has lasting effects on her future employment.

Asked why she deserved a pardon, Williams-Bolar said: "I know what I did was wrong. I didn't mean to hurt Copley-Fairlawn city schools."