COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Kelley Williams-Bolar, of Akron, served nine days in jail earlier this year for falsifying information on records that she used to send her daughters to Copley-Fairlawn schools.
She said her conviction on two felony records tampering counts had threatened her efforts to earn her teacher’s license. Gov. John Kasich agreed, reducing the convictions to two misdemeanors.
“When I first heard about this situation, it seemed to me that the penalty was excessive for the offense,” the governor said in a statement. “In addition, the penalty could exclude her from certain economic opportunities for the rest of her life.”
But the governor’s action also came with a warning.
“No one should interpret this as a pass — it’s a second chance,” Kasich said.
Kasich is requiring Williams-Bolar to report for probation, serve 80 hours of community service, work full time, not take any drugs or drink alcohol and pay the cost of her prosecution.
Kasich’s order was a rare departure from the recommendation of the Ohio Parole Board, which said unanimously last week that Kasich should leave Williams-Bolar’s conviction in place.
Her attorney on Wednesday praised Kasich for bucking the board.
“It took a lot of courage for Gov. Kasich to do so in the face of a unanimous parole board recommendation that clemency be denied, and we applaud him for that,” said David Singleton, executive director of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center.
Singleton said the decision will make it easier for Williams-Bolar to keep her job as a teacher’s aide and to ultimately apply to have the conviction struck from her record.
Williams-Bolar told the parole board in July that she was remorseful for lying and would do things differently if given the chance.
“I love my kids and I would have done anything for my children,” she told the 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 Copley-Fairlawn district. Officials there challenged her daughters’ 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 engaged in 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.
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.
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. 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 also said she was worried about leaving her daughters home alone because someone had broken in.
The parole board dismissed that concern in last week’s ruling, saying Williams-Bolar failed to explore several options to solve a problem faced by many working parents.