Ohio Mom Jailed for Sending Her Kids to a Better School

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Much of the poltical rhetoric on education reform has centered on the ability of parents to send their children to better schools, particularly in situations where they were forced to send them to schools that were failing. But in the case of Kelley Williams-Bolar, her desire to get her children better educational placement landed her in jail, and may well derail her aspirations of becoming a teacher herself.

Williams-Bolar, 40, and her two children live in housing projects in Akron, Ohio. For two years, she sent them to school in the Copley-Fairlawn district, where her father lived, because it was a safer environment — the high crime rate in her area drove her decision. The suburban school district hired a private investigator to find their residential records and it turned out she listed the children as living in that district, although they actually stayed with her.

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Technically, that qualifies as a felony since she falsified records, and Judge Patricia Cosgrove sentenced her to two concurrent five-year prison sentences. She suspended the sentence, though, in favor of a 10-day jail sentence, 80 hours of community service and three years probation. She had been working as a teaching assistant for special needs children and earning a teaching degree, but since she is now a convicted felon, under Ohio law she cannot earn that degree.

The conviction has caused outrage among many who advocate change and improvement in education, particularly for the poor and disadvantaged minority communities. Syracuse University professor Boyce Watkins took to the blogosphere to openly voice his outrage.

“There is no logical reason on earth why this mother of two should be dehumanized by going to jail and be left permanently marginalized from future economic and educational opportunities, he wrote on his blog. “Even if you believe in the laws that keep poor kids trapped in underperforming schools, the idea that this woman should be sent to jail for demanding educational access is simply ridiculous.”

The website Change.org has launched a petition in support of reduction on appeal of Williams-Bolar’s conviction, and have started a Twitter campaign on it.

Both girls, now aged 16 and 12, attended schools in Copley-Fairlawn from August 2006 to June 2008, but now attend school elsewhere, according to the Akron Beacon-Journal.

(More on TIME.com: See pictures of homeschooled children)