Wednesday, January 26, 2011

No Escape

There's a story getting national attention about a mother in Ohio who was convicted of a felony and jailed for using a false address to send her kids to a safer/better school.

Now that the Seattle School District is making it even tougher for families to avoid their neighborhood schools, one has to wonder if we'll be seeing more of these sort of enforcement actions around here.

I'm finding some of the comments about this story on several news sites to be instructive and frightening.

41 comments:

Stu said...

We once actually discussed the possibility of renting an apartment nearer to a "better" school. We never really thought about it seriously but it's not such a strange idea. It would be a whole lot cheaper than private school, wouldn't it?

Stu said...

By the way, it's a horrible news story and a real miscarriage of justice to charge this woman with a felony. The comments are great but people shouldn't be petitioning the school board about it at this point. This woman is now a convicted felon and everyone should be petitioning the governor for a full pardon.

stu

Anonymous said...

The governor of Ohio is a former guest host of the O'Reilly Factor. Hmm... wonder which side he's on?

-- Fantasmic Mr. Fox

dan dempsey said...

Well not to worry as in Seattle the NSAP made every school a quality school.

This certainly must be the case because the Board no longer mentions the foundation of the NSAP that every school will be a quality school. So I can only assume that every school is now a quality school.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Ridiculous. No, she shouldn't have done this. Maybe she could have petitioned the district if they had room.

Of course, if the "good" district was full and her kids bumped other local kids, it's not fair.

But to make her a felon and fine her? Please.

Patrick said...

This was fraud. Our system is based on honesty, if you swear to something that's false there should be serious consequences. If she didn't like her actual school district, she should work to make all the schools better, or move, or give her father joint custody so his address can be the children's address, or petition to be legally accepted into the other district. Fraudulently seeking an exception to the rotten situation everyone else in her district is in doesn't do anything to fix the underlying problem. Jail time is excessive, but a full pardon is a license for everyone to leave bad schools instead of fixing the social problems that make for bad schools.

hschinske said...

Part of the problem is that those districts have local funding, so that the taxes for the richer areas fund richer schools, while the taxes for the poorer areas fund poorer schools. Your basic Matthew effect. While we certainly have inequalities between schools here, I dare say they're nothing to the places that practice this kind of funding.

Anyone remember the scene in _A Tree Grows in Brooklyn_ where Francie's mother lies about their address to get Francie into a better school? I bet most of us cheered them on at that point.

I don't have as much sympathy for people lying to get their kids into Garfield (especially not people who have the money and time for legal alternatives, from private school to out-of-district enrollment). But I don't think even the most flagrant of those cases deserve to go to *jail* over it. (And apparently other people in the same situation in Akron didn't.)

So, where do you suppose the girls are living now, with their mom being in jail? Be ironic if it were with their grandfather, making them eligible for the dang school after all ...

Helen Schinske

Bird said...

This is in the news because the punishment is excessive. It should not be a felony, and isn't the district asking for something like $30,000?

Sure, you shouldn't lie. Sure, you should try to make the local schools better. But that's not why we're talking about this story.

According to court testimony, there were 30 to 40 similar residency cases involving other families from August 2006 to June 2008, when Williams-Bolar's children were enrolled in Copley schools.

Williams-Bolar was the only parent prosecuted, according to testimony...

zb said...

Not to mention that the school district appears to be predominantly white. Do they hire private detectives to check up on *all* the african-American kids in the school?

I don't have an issue with people being discovered and kicked out of school for lying about residency (BTW, renting an apartment, an opportunity available to the affluent, actually doesn't establish residency, either). But convicting the woman of a felony? I'm shocked, and greatly suspect the unequal application of justice.

zb said...

"Anyone remember the scene in _A Tree Grows in Brooklyn_ where Francie's mother lies about their address to get Francie into a better school? I bet most of us cheered them on at that point."

It was Johnny, actually, Francie's drunken dad. In the book, this school, and the fresh start Francie gets without the burdens of her neighborhood/family, transform Francie's life. And, we do all cheer.

It was still wrong, of course, a lie (and a risk well worth taking for Francie).

none1111 said...

Just reading the headlines, it makes one suspicious about something else going on behind the scenes. Did this woman do or say something during the process to really, really piss these guys off? Not to say that's justification for pursuing a felony charge, but it all seems very odd.

After reading several local (to the situation) articles, I can't find anything that makes the charges seem warranted.

The woman's dad had a stroke at some point, and it sounds like they were all spending a lot of time there taking care of him. I'm sure there are technicalities of what constitutes "living" at a particular address, but if you spend most of your waking hours in one location, then sleep at another, well... there are always exceptions and edge cases. This is why we have juries, I just don't know what they saw. It's certainly seems more complicated than "she was cheating, and that's that."

My guess is that when most people are confronted they just say "oops, sorry", and move on, but she dug in her heels to fight. And sadly, lost. In any case, even if she's wrong, there was no need to take this beyond a misdemeanor.

none1111 said...

Helen said: So, where do you suppose the girls are living now, with their mom being in jail? Be ironic if it were with their grandfather, making them eligible for the dang school after all ...

Wonderful analysis. Now that would be justice!

Bird said...

I can't think of any circumstance under which a felony would make sense, no matter what "heel digging" may or may not have gone on.

h2o girl said...

One of the saddest parts of this story to me is that she is studying to get her teaching degree and is almost done. Now with a felony on her record she likely will not be able to get a teaching job. Here she is trying to make a better life for herself and her girls, and it's now much much harder. Sure, punish her for cheating, but don't make her a felon.

Anonymous said...

Wonder if some of the "predominantly white" parents saw a way to get rid of the extra color in their school and complained?

If there were a few dozen other families doing the same thing, I wonder Mom said, "Hey wait a minute, I'm not the only one doing this!" and that was the wrong answer in that community.

Anyone want to place bets on how folks would be rushing to the defense of some gentrifying white family who fudged the address to "escape" a "bad (i.e. black)" school who ended up in court? You know, kind of what happens in south Seattle...

Anonymouse

hschinske said...

You're right, zb, I'd forgotten the details of that scene. It's Francie herself who finds the school (apparently something similar happened to the author, from a snippet of her biography I saw on Google Books), and her father who agrees to write the letter for her.

I looked up the elementary schools in that district, and they range from 8% to 15% black, but they're fairly small schools, so that's not very many black kids in each grade.

Helen Schinske

public school mom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
public school mom said...

I think if you cheat and get into a school by lying about your address, and you get caught, then you get booted out of that school.

That would be a logical consequences.

Prosecution is excessive, and ridiculous.Do we really want to spend tax dollars prosecuting this mother, and possibly jailing her? And a $30,000 fine. Really? If she couldn't afford to live in a neighborhood with better schools, my guess is she doesn't have $30,000 laying around to pay a fine. More court fees trying to collect.

Silly, really.

none1111 said...

I think if you cheat and get into a school by lying about your address, and you get caught, then you get booted out of that school.

To leave it at that would mean there's no penalty for trying to do something illegal. It would be like saying the penalty for robbing a store IF you get caught, is to simply give back the merchandise. That would be a no-lose situation, i.e. a win/draw, with no disincentive to doing the wrong thing.

This doesn't excuse the district/prosecution in this case, as they seem to have gone way over the top on this one. I think we should keep an eye on this one, to see what kind of additional details come out. The district/prosecution is getting pummeled in the court of public opinion.

hschinske said...

When the Tony Wroten case was going on, I don't remember any discussion of the Wrotens facing any potential consequences other than having Tony kicked out of Garfield. Does SPS do anything else? I got the impression the Akron case had the big money involved because their policy was that if you came from out of district you were supposed to pay tuition, which isn't how things work here.

Helen Schinske

public school mom said...

Well, none111, if booting a family out of a school isn't enough, then what do you think would be an appropriate penalty for this type of situation (I'll say situation, because I really can't bring myself to call it a crime)?

hschinske said...

Oh, and because the mom was supposed to be paying tuition, that's probably how it got framed as a felony, because of the amount of money involved.

Helen Schinske

seattle citizen said...

I took a peek at Ohio law, and my read is that fraud, in this case a taking of services (if it's fraud....jury?), is a misdemeanor under $500 and a felony over that.

The prosectution in this case is evidently basing its felony charge on the fraudulent "taking" of services someone told them was worth 30k.

Tough nut. Policy is policy: If you are assigned to a school or part of the district, that's where you're assigned. To fraudulently obtain other services is, well, a crime. That's what fraud IS. Did she commit fraud? Hard to tell from this perch - sounds like there were mitigating circumstances. That's the jury's work. But if there weren't, well...fraud is pretty dang serious. Our system relies on honest contracts. ANY system relies on honest contracts. If there were no mitigating circumstances, I, personally, would send the students back to their district, and sentence the mom to some heavy community service. I know she wants to be a teacher, and this felony (if unchanged) might be a significant roadblock towards a cert, but if there were no mitigating circumstances she committed a crime. Nobody made her do it; she chose to misrepresent herself in order to obtain services for her children.

One might use the "should you steal bread for your starving children" argument, but I don't see them as the same: Her kids HAD a school, and also without due severity one could argue that EVERYBODY should do this, it's no big deal. It has to be taken seriously.

None of this is to say I don't feel for this parent. I do. I'm just looking at the law and policy of it.

public school mom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
public school mom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
public school mom said...

Yup, SC, it's the law. It's stealing.

Speaking of stealing, I bet there are a lot of bloggers out there that post comments during their work hours. They must beat their employers out of countless time and dollars. That would be stealing too, huh. I suppose they should all be fired. And then prosecuted! And if they steal over $500 of company time blogging then we can prosecute them as felons! If they are government employees we can have them face federal charges! And we can court marshall military personnel!

They are after all, stealing, right...

Not justifying or anything, but seriously, isn't this all a bit ridiculous?

Anonymous said...

I agree with public school mom. The punishment doesn't fit the crime

seattle citizen said...

public school mom, bloggers aren't misrepresenting themselves to secure services.

Please forgive me for thinking that fraud is a bad thing.

I agree, the punishment seems way too much, but what should the punishment be?

public school mom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
public school mom said...

"Please forgive me for thinking that fraud is a bad thing."

You are absolutely right SC - fraud is a bad thing. And it is against the law. So is stealing.

So why prosecute a mom who commits fraud by enrolling her kid in a school she is not entitled to enroll in, and not prosecute the blogger who steals company time by posting during work hours?

I'll tell you why. Because the crimes don't warrant the punishment. An employee goofing off, and blogging during work hours risks getting fired. Not arrested. Or prosecuted. Or jailed. A mom that uses a fake address risks getting caught and having her kid booted out of the school or district. She shouldn't be charged with a felony, jailed, or fined $30,000. That. Is. Ridiculous.

wsnorth said...

The real reason? In this country it is not a crime to be rich. Then you can buy a house in a good 'hood or send your kid to private school.

And the people in the "good 'hood" don't seem to care much about paying to educate the rest. Though morally repugnant, that is not a crime, either.

Mothers (oddly, mostly mothers), around the world do what they feel they need to get the best for their children. It should not be a crime.

Sign me: Sick sick sick.

seattle citizen said...

I agree, PSM, that the punishment seems onerous. What would you suggest?
My initial post was driven by concern about what I saw as a cavalier attitude about what's right. If a blogger blogs during work, that's cavalier, too. He/she might get fired, true.

But what should we do with someone who cheats to get their kid into a "better" school? What punishment would you suggest?

public school mom said...

SC, I posted my answer to your question twice already, in this thread.

If a family gets caught cheating the system to get their kid into a school, then boot their kid out of the school. That's what I would do. That's what we do here in Seattle. That is a logical consequence.

We as a society need to make sure that EVERYONE in this country has access to good public schools. Until we can do that, continue to expect that caring families who don't have access are going to do whatever they can, including cheating, to get it.

I'm not justifying cheating, but honestly, can you really blame them?

Instead of the state spending who knows how much money prosecuting this woman (court fees, state appointed lawyers, prison time, collections agency to attempt to collect the $30,000 fine, parole officer), why not use that state money to better the schools this mother ran away from?

seattle citizen said...

PSM,

Booting the student out is not a repercussion for the parent, in fact it's not really a repercussion at all: Student was in School A, goes to School B, goes back to School A - How does this provide a repercussion for the parent who broke the rules?
It's more a punishment for the student, whom I feel for, but aside from the loss of the illicitly gained "better" school, there is no penalty for the parent breaking the rules.

I do blame them for cheating. Just as I'd blame anyone for cheating, including myself. I understand why they do, but it's still cheating. If (ha! WHEN!) I cheat, if I get caught I expect that I'll be penalized. I hope that when I DON'T get caught, at least I'm punished in my heart or mind for cheating.

Parent cheats, gets caught, what's the penalty for the parent? Should there be none?

Bird said...

Parent cheats, gets caught, what's the penalty for the parent? Should there be none?

It's hard to say really what should be done without more information.

You could start working backwards from felony and $30,000, starting wth misdemeanor and a smaller amount of money.

But it might be more useful to start from zero -- nothing, do nothing. Schools exist to educate children. If there is room and minimal additional costs, why do anything at all? Don't kick the kids out, don't punish the parent. Take that as a starting point and work forward.

What's the purpose of punishing the parent? Is it for abstract justice? Is it to discourage other parents?

If there are too many other parents also breaking the rules, should we instead re-examine what the purpose of the rules are?

Is it to keep poor students out of a richer district? Maybe the districts should be merged. Maybe school funding should be equalized.

Is it simply to recover desperately necessary funds? Perhaps the funds shoud be recovered from the neighboring district rather than from parents who clearly don't have the means to repay them.

We could yammer on at length about this, but it's really not that useful an exercise without more information than has been provided by any news story I've yet seen on the topic.

I hope someone does a feature length story on this because there's much about it that is curious and worth discussing -- starting with this idea of "theft of services".

I've never heard of anyone being charged with theft of government services before - not theft of funds (like a welfare or social security check), but theft of services. I'd like to know more about the law around that and if there is much, if any, history of it being used in relation to schools.

And I think the first thing that should happen, after this person gets their felony pardoned, is that a law should be passed in Ohio making it illegal to charge of tuition.

Is that common in other districts? It's very odd to back charge this woman for tuition when if her kids were actually living with their grandfather, they would have paid no tuition. I'd be interested in knowing how this tuition was calculated.

seattle citizen said...

I agree that we need more information. I also agree that if (when) there are disparities between schools then something should be done.

I came into this discussion with much too strong a "pro law" position, perhaps thinking of discouraging parents from treating rules and regs in a cavalier way, but I see that in retreating to the code I've lost sight of the bigger dilemnas. I don't have an answer. I know that we all (most) break rules routinely: for ease, for fun, for personal gain of some sort...In this case, due to the rationale (if we know it) there are certainly deeper aspects.

I agree with some posters that there might be issues of class and race in play, as usual: Who actually feels the hammer of the law? Those without money, or those targeted unfairly.

I'm with Bird on most points: What happened, IS "theft of services" something treated seriously elsewhere, what can be done to make schools more equitable and thus avoid this situation in the first place?

Maureen said...

I admit to being a rule-focused person. I think there does need to be a penalty for the parent for breaking this sort of rule, if only to be fair to all of the other parents who follow the rules. I absolutely agree that the penalty here was, to say the least, excessive and wonder if there is more to the story (what happened with the other families who cheated?)

In Seattle, the current penalty is obviously not enough to discourage lying about your address. It seems that, at least, there could be some monetary penalty that goes toward the cost of enforcing the policy. It isn't fair to the crowded 'legal' students at Garfield or JSIS to admit people who are willing to flaunt the rules and it's not fair to all of the others who live outside those boundaries who do abide by the rules either. ('Not fair' I know, I sound like an eight year old, but still...)

The problem with a monetary incentive is that it hits poor people harder. Wait, I got it, community service! That's what they should have done with the woman in Ohio. Converted her penalty to a certain number of hours volunteering in the schools. The same should apply in Seattle. If your time is super valuable, then you can be given the option of buying out your hours at $100 per, otherwise you're in the school doing some good.

public school mom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
public school mom said...

I still think being kicked out of the school that you cheated to get into is punishment enough.

Take this example:

An honest person, looking to avoid their attendance area school, goes through open enrollment. They may not, via choice, be able to get into the most popular schools in the city, but they can generally get in to plenty of schools other than their attendance school, or into an option school. It is likely that they can find a legal way of avoiding their attendance area school. They may not be able to get into Bryant or Eckstein or Garfield, but they can probably get into Hale or Ingraham, or Sealth, or West Seattle HS, or NOVA, or Center. Same for elementary and middle school. A healthy choice of of options.

Lets say, instead of taking the honest route, a family cheats and uses a fake address and gets into Roosevelt. Then they get caught. And their child gets booted out. There are almost no options remaining for that child now. No open enrollment, no shot at a different school, or an option school, as all of the decent schools would be full. They will most likely have to attend the very attendance area school they were trying to escape.

That seems like punishment enough to me.

Jan said...

seattle citizen: here is a thought. Why isn't the booting out of the kids (loss of friendships and activities, relegation to a far poorer school, etc.) enough punishment for the parent? She rigged all this up in the first place to try to give them a better situation, drove them to the bus stop daily, who knows what else. Now that she has been caught -- why isn't the harm to her children (whom she obviously loves enough to lie for) enough punishment for her? It would be for me! Am I missing something obvious?

seattle citizen said...

You make a good point, Jan: The child's loss is the parent's loss.

Some sort of karmic coincidence yesterday: Reading this month's Sun Magazine )(I highly recommend it), at the back each issue is a page of "Sunbeams" (I know, I know), which is a bunch of quotes culled from the ages on the theme of the issue. This month it was law. Of about 20 quotes, almost everyone addressed the inequity of it, how it was predicated on class issues, etc. Many spoke to the issure before us.

I stand chastened. Yet I still wobble back and forth between rules/law and rules/law=controls...I mean, yes, the laws are made (and enforced perhaps) by "the controllers," but what do we do without them?

ach.