(The first in a two-part series)
“Being oppressed means the absence of choices.” – bell hooks
Here’s a question for those of you who are fans of 1990s pop culture: Do you remember that episode of Beverly Hills 90210 in which authorities discover that Gabrielle Carteris’ character, Andrea Zuckerman, has been secretly living outside of the school district? So, she gets kicked out of school and they lock up her family for illegal enrollment, larceny, theft by deception, and records tampering.
Oh – that’s right. Sorry. My mistake. Andrea actually goes on to receive an acceptance letter to Yale, and gives the commencement address as the valedictorian of her high school class.
I confused the fates of fictional, non-affluent characters on television, with the real-life nightmares of Americans who barely get by. They have found it’s nearly impossible to provide their children with the best educational opportunity available.
Kelley Williams-Bolar, 41-year-old, single mother from Akron, Ohio, was charged last year with both felony larceny and records tempering, for using her father’s address to enroll her two children in a neighboring school district. The Copley-Fairlawn School District hired a private investigator to shoot video of Ms. Williams-Bolar driving her children to school, and then ordered her to pay $30,000 in back tuition under threat of felony charges. A felony conviction would have prevented Ms. Williams-Bolar, a teacher’s aide and student pursuing a degree in family child development, from obtaining the very license to teach. But she didn’t have $30,000. Ms. Williams-Bolar was sentenced to jail and probation, until public outrage led Governor John Kasich to intervene and reduce her convictions to misdemeanors.
Marie Menard of Stratford, Connecticut, and Ana Wade of Milford, were arrested on October 20, 2010 and charged with first-degree larceny, and conspiracy, for allegedly enrolling Ms. Wade’s children in Stratford schools using Ms. Menard’s address.
And that’s not even the worst of it.
A 34-year-old, homeless woman named Tonya McDowell used a babysitter’s address so her son could attend kindergarten in Norwalk. According to existing law, Ms. McDowell’s son must attend school in Bridgeport, because that’s the last place she lived before she became homeless. Police arrested her for stealing $15,686 worth of “free” educational services from Norwalk. Authorities charged her with felony larceny. Ms. McDowell entered a plea under the Alford Doctrine. Earlier this year, she was sentenced to 12 years in jail.
But wait, there’s more.
In Kentucky, Charles Lauron, a 51-year-old, single father from Louisville, was informed last year that he would be facing felony theft by deception for enrolling his son in Oldham County Schools while living in Lyndon. Mr. Lauron was confronted with a bill for $26,000, and the threat of a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. He wasn’t alone.
Oldham County Schools went to court to seek legal action against Jim McGuire for using another address for enrollment when his child’s primary residence was in Jefferson County with his mother, Cheryl McGuire.
OCS contracted the same investigators that spied on the McGuires to muckrake enough dirt to bring charges against Dawne Grigsby for using her mother’s address to enroll her two children, whose home residence is in Henry County.
In Illinois, Annette Callahan, became worried when her honor-roll, fifth grade, fraternal twins scored below state averages on their annual standardized exams. One had been badly bullied. Ms. Callahan, and her ex-husband, Samuel Callahan, agreed that it would be best to take the kids out of Waukegan schools, and enroll them in the Beach Park school district. After all, the couple enjoys shared custody, and therefore their kids also call their father’s residence in Beach Park home. But the district accused the Callahans of “illegal enrollment,” and ordered their children removed. They appealed… three times. Beach Park responded by hiring a private investigator to seek enough evidence to move forward with legal action against the Callahans. Undaunted, they demanded the district make public the findings of its investigation. Beach Park backed down temporarily from its threats of legal action, yet continues to insist that the Callahans must demonstrate a “more concrete residency plan.”
You see where this is going. We’ve got plenty of talent to parade on stage, capitvating millions of eyeballs nationwide. But, we fail miserably at giving our kids the education they need to be successful and competitive. In the cases above, we’re actively stealing it from them.
Transformative change is urgently needed.
Note: Read Part 2 of this piece here.