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A strange case of clemency granted by the governor



Published: Fri, September 9, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

It’s difficult to DIVINE which con- stituency Gov. John Kasich was responding to this week when he overturned a jury’s verdict and disregarded a unanimous recommendation of the Ohio Parole Board to reduce the conviction of an Akron woman from a felony to a misdemeanor.

It certainly wasn’t the law and order crowd. Kelley Williams-Bolar had been offered every opportunity to avoid even being charged with a crime, but she was defiant. She took the position that the law didn’t apply to her and she dared the Copley-Fairlawn Local School District and the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office to prove her wrong.

Certainly Kasich’s decision didn’t please suburban school district taxpayers who don’t believe their property taxes should be spent providing an education for children fraudulently enrolled by their nonresident parents.

We have our suspicion as to whom Kasich’s decision was meant to strike a chord — the advocates of “school choice” — but even that doesn’t hold water when the plain facts of the case are examined.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s first review Williams-Bolar’s case.

Williams-Bolar, 41, lives in the city of Akron with her two daughters and works as a teacher’s aide in the Akron City School District. But she chose to falsify documents so that her daughters could enroll in the Copley-Fairlawn school district, where her father lived at the time. Copley, which doesn’t have open enrollment, takes a dim view of such falsification and is one of the more aggressive districts in protecting itself against nonresident students. Williams-Bolar was only one of several parents confronted about using false documentation to enroll her children in Copley schools. But she was the only one who ignored the district’s suggestion that she either move into the school district or pay tuition. The Summit County prosecutors office said it had never before been forced to take a similar case to trial.

Tried and found guilty

The result was a jury trial in which Williams-Bolar was found guilty of two counts of tampering with records during the process of enrolling her children. The jury deadlocked on more serious charges of theft, with 11 jurors voting guilty.

She served nine days in jail and faces probation and community service.

That is a harsh penalty, but not out of line, given her willful defiance of the law.

But she became a sympathetic figure among school choice advocates, who said that all she was trying to do was get her children out of a failing school system. But Williams has never claimed that the quality of the education her children received was better in Copley than in Akron. She maintained consistently that she wanted her girls to come home to a safer environment at her father’s home than they could have in her government-subsidized housing in Akron.

For that peace of mind and convenience, she was willing to file false documents and break the law rather than do the hard work that thousands of other mothers and fathers in similar situations have to do to assure their children’s safety.

Still, we suspect that the constituency foremost in Kasich’s mind in granting Williams-Bolar clemency was the state and national school choice movement, even if the quality of the education at stake was never part of the equation.


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