By Amber Campbell
What if you knew that the quality of your child’s education was determined by your zip code? Or the color of their skin?
That American schools are more segregated by race and class today than they were 43 years ago when Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed?
That they were less likely to graduate from high school or go to college than other kids in your own city?
That in some districts – like Seattle’s – a black child has a better chance of dropping out than attending a high-performing public school?
Kelley Williams-Bolar – 40-year old Ohio college student and single-mom of two daughters – knew all that and more, like that a high-quality, well-funded public education is not just a cornerstone of a democratic society, but also its great equalizer.
Which is why the teacher-in-training was recently convicted of a felony and spent nine days in jail for using her father’s address when she registered her children at a better, safer and whiter school than the low-performing, predominantly black one in her own community where – in a segregated district much like Seattle’s – neighborhood children are forced to attend.
County Prosecutor Sherri Walsh charged Williams-Bolar with grand theft and falsifying records — a third-degree felony. She was convicted on the felony charge, and sentenced to five years in prison. The judge suspended all but 10 days of the jail time, instead ordering three years of probation and 80 hours of community service.
Williams-Bolar isn’t the only struggling with issues of equality in education more than 50 years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision declared “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Our own former Rainier Valley neighbor Sable Verity has had to make her own tough choices:
As a mother of two black kids in public schools, I sympathize with Williams-Bolar. My kids are lucky. When I realized that- simply because of our zip code my kids were going to be tracked into schools where they likely would not be successful, and likely would not go to college as a result- I moved my family to a different school district. It cost more in living expenses. It put us farther away from family and peer groups. But they’re getting the education they’re worthy of. Not everyone can do that. I don’t fault Williams-Bolar for her decisions or her circumstance. Sometimes things are beyond our control. For what it’s worth though, I was only able to get a higher paying job and move because I had a kick-ass education growing up. More.
What do you think? Is Kelly Williams-Bolar the Rosa Parks of our time? What difficult decisions have you faced in an effort to secure the best possible education for your child?
In Seattle, only 10% of black students attend a high-performing elementary school, and south-end schools tend to be of significantly lower-quality compared to the rest of the city. Photo/do communication