Workers Vanguard No. 977

1 April 2011


Black Mother Jailed for Getting Kids into Decent School


In a stark illustration of black oppression in America today, Kelley Williams-Bolar, a single black mother from Akron, Ohio, was jailed in January for the “crime” of sending her two daughters to a better school. In 2006, Williams-Bolar claimed residency of her children with her father, with whom they lived part-time following the burglary of her public housing apartment and to whom she attempted to grant power of attorney over the children. By declaring her children resident a mere three miles away, she gained access for them to the suburban Copley-Fairlawn school district, which is 75 percent white and has received a state designation of “Excellent with Distinction.” The schools that Williams-Bolar’s daughters would otherwise have attended, which are over 90 percent black, were designated as “Academic Watch” and “Continuous Improvement”—one and two levels above absolute bottom.

As part of a multi-year effort to crack down on “theft of services,” the Copley-Fairlawn district had Williams-Bolar and her children trailed by a private detective. Initially, they attempted to get her to pay back “tuition” (i.e., fees for out-of-district students), as they had with 47 other “offenders,” largely black. In her case, that amounted to more than $30,000. When she refused, she was dragged into court and sentenced to an outrageous ten years in prison—later reduced to ten days, with two years’ probation and 80 hours of community service. The felony conviction could prevent Williams-Bolar from attaining her teaching degree, which she was only a few credits away from completing at the time of her sentencing. Rescind the conviction of Kelley Williams-Bolar!

More than 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, the American public education system is still separate and unequal. Despite the victories of the civil rights movement in confronting legal segregation, the de facto segregation of black people endures as a structural feature of the American capitalist system. While the Democrats are promoted by the trade-union bureaucrats and black liberal spokesmen as a “lesser evil,” they serve the interests of America’s rulers just as much as the Republicans. Obama’s “school reform” policy—spearheaded by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, whose résumé includes closing some 60 Chicago schools—is nothing but a single massive assault on public schools and teachers unions (see “Obama’s War on Public Education,” WV No. 967, 22 October 2010). When asked about Williams-Bolar’s case, Duncan decried a situation “where children have one option” and called for expanding charter schools, which attack teachers, attack unions, further privatize education and further increase segregation.

Indeed, Akron demonstrates what “school choice” really means: those with the means have choice, and those without the means have the choice to take what they’re given—or else. The degradation of public education has hit the working class and especially minorities particularly hard in cities like Akron, which have suffered a huge economic downturn with deindustrialization. In 1993, the Ohio legislature passed an “open enrollment” act allowing students in participating schools to transfer between adjacent districts. In short order, roughly 1,100 students, nearly all white, transferred from Akron to schools in neighboring suburbs.

Efforts by the school district to stem these out-transfers were overturned in 1996 by a federal district court in a case brought by an outfit called the Equal Open Enrollment Association. This set the stage for further rulings across the country severely restricting the ability for school districts to take measures against segregation—part of a long, deliberate process of overturning Brown. Even as white flight continues from Akron schools, suburban districts near poor and minority areas, such as Copley-Fairlawn, have been able to “choose” to opt out of open enrollment, keeping the children of poor minority parents like Kelley Williams-Bolar trapped in the holding pens that are ghetto schools. With “choice” like this, who needs compulsion? When someone such as Kelley Williams-Bolar crosses the line, the repressive force of the capitalist state stands ready to remind her and her children of their “place.”

The case of Williams-Bolar speaks to the vast inequalities structurally embedded in the system of American capitalism. To achieve actual quality, integrated education for all requires a socialist revolution in which the multiracial working class replaces the rotting structure of capitalist property relations with a planned economy, where there are jobs and decent living conditions for all. Only a society organized on the basis of production for human need and not for the profit of an elite few can ensure that all are able to learn and develop to their full potential. The fight for such an egalitarian socialist society requires building a revolutionary workers party that champions the cause of all the exploited and oppressed.