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Misconceptions persist following mom's conviction

By John Published: June 1, 2011
The case of an Akron woman who falsified records to get her daughters into Copley schools has stirred debate far and wide, including YouTube, where a Taiwanese video about the case can be viewed.

Note: This story was published March 5 in the Akron Beacon Journal. Not sure why the system is putting it on my blog now, but as far as I can tell, it's never been on the blog before, so I'll just go with it -- JH

By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer

The Kelley Williams-Bolar saga has spawned numerous distorted, misleading or wrong assumptions about Williams-Bolar and the Copley-Fairlawn and Akron school districts.

The spectacle even reached Taiwan, where a computer animation posted on YouTube in Chinese with English subtitles portrayed prosecutors as racist buffoons wearing cowboy hats.

Three false assumptions about the case have persisted in the media frenzy:

• That she was trying to send her kids to a better school.

• That she was cheating the National School Lunch Program.

• That Copley-Fairlawn discriminated against her because she is black.

Quality not an issue

Williams-Bolar has consistently said she was concerned about the safety of her neighborhood, not the quality of the Akron Public Schools.

Furthermore, there is nothing in the 70 pages of her testimony in the trial transcript that indicates she enrolled her daughters in Copley to get a better education.

That hasn't stopped numerous national commentators, from both liberal and conservative publications, from assuming that was her motive.

Conservative commentator Kyle Olson told National Public Radio that ''a lot of people are seeing this as the Rosa Parks moment for education and education reform.''

In a column on the conservative Web site Townhall.com, Olson reiterated his claim that Williams-Bolar was seeking escape from inferior schools.

He declared the Williams-Bolar case would put a human face on the school-choice movement and serve as ''a wake-up call for Americans about the need for bold, substantial school choice laws throughout the country.''

The Washington Post published an opinion piece online by Kevin Huffman headlined, ''A Rosa Parks moment for education'' that cited Olson's NPR comment.

''Williams-Bolar's offense?'' Huffman wrote. ''Lying about her address so her two daughters, zoned to the lousy Akron city schools, could attend better schools in the neighboring Copley-Fairlawn district.''

Columnist Patricia J. Williams, writing for the liberal Nation Magazine, also got it wrong:

''In Akron, Ohio, an African-American tiger mother named Kelley Williams-Bolar was recently prosecuted for lying about where she lived so she could get her children into a decent school district.''

Eligibility for aid affirmed

The second false assumption that she cheated the school lunch program is more subtle, turning up in online comments about the story around the Internet.

Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh refers to the lunch applications on her website, explaining why Williams-Bolar was charged with records tampering:

''Ms. Williams-Bolar failed to disclose her job and income from the Akron Public Schools one year, and the second year, failed to disclose both her income and child support. The investigation showed that she received around $800 a month in child support.''

In fact, Williams-Bolar wasn't required to include any income information on the application for subsidized lunches, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the program.

Because she already had established her income eligibility for food stamps a benefit she reported on subsidized housing records her daughters automatically qualified for free lunches, according to the USDA.

Copley officials confirmed Williams-Bolar qualified for the program.

''The income information isn't relevant,'' said district Treasurer John Wheadon.

Wheadon was questioned about the forms which included the Copley address of her father by a prosecutor and William-Bolar's attorney.

But jurors never heard that food-stamp recipients are instructed to skip the income section on the form because they automatically qualify for free lunch.

They didn't have to hear that information, said Walsh's spokesperson, Laurie Cramer, because Williams-Bolar wasn't charged with defrauding the school lunch program.

''The jury found her guilty of making false statements in the free lunch applications,'' Cramer said. ''The jury is not required to specify the exact falsifications, but the jury was directed to look at the documents in their entirety.''

The third false assumption of the case that the district discriminated based on race was started when Williams-Bolar herself reported the district to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights in 2008.

Federal investigators from the Cleveland office ''found no evidence that similarly situated families were treated differently based on race with respect to the District's enforcement of its residency,'' according to the U.S. Department of Education.


John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or jhiggins@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the education blog at

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