Making Parents into Criminals

Posted: February 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

Kelley Williams-Bolar talks with the state parole board on Wednesday, July 20, 2011 in Columbus, Ohio. Williams-Bolar, 41, of Akron served nine days in jail for falsifying information on records that were used to send her daughters to a suburban school outside their urban district.

A recent article in the Orange County Register describes the impact of an 1833 Pennsylvania statute that makes it illegal for parents to send their children to schools outside their Zip Code of residence. In this particular case, a child moved with her mother during the parent’s separation and was enrolled in a school in her mother’s new community. When the parents reconciled, they decided to allow the child to finish out the year at her new school instead of disrupting her life any more than it already had been.

The parents were later arrested, handcuffed, and paraded before the media; a charge of “Theft of Educational Services” followed, which carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison. The case is still pending.

In a related case from Ohio, a woman was arrested and charged with several felonies for using her father’s address as her own so that she could send her children to a public school in his Zip Code. She was reportedly concerned about the poor quality of education in her own school district, didn’t have the funds to send her children to a private school, and didn’t have access to vouchers. From her perspective, her decision was about helping her children. The government’s perspective was that this was a crime.

Admittedly, sending children to another school district does shift costs and may be viewed by some as problematic on that basis alone. But, the genesis and history of this law actually has racist overtones, arising as it did from “The Black Law” passed in Connecticut to prevent non-white children from attending schools there without government permission.

We’ve heard a lot about government overreach in recent months, especially cases such as Aaron Swartz’s, that continue to reverberate around Capitol Hill.  Perhaps it’s time to examine laws that make well-meaning parents into criminals simply because they’re seeking what’s best for their children.

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