Twelve years ago, Kelley Williams-Bolar went to jail and made national news for lying so her daughters could attend a school outside their public district.
Now, she’s a staunch advocate for open enrollment, parents’ rights, and anything else that will help kids get a better education.
.@kelleywbolar is a mother of two from Akron, Ohio. After seeing bullying, threats, and violence at her children's school, she enrolled them in the school district where her father lived.
— yes. every kid. (@yes_everykid) March 28, 2023
Williams-Bolar spoke with The Lion about how parents are vilified by the media and the government, as for example happened when the U.S. attorney general and the secretary of education labeled parents ‘domestic terrorists’ for protesting at school board meetings.
“How do you say that about parents that love their children?” she asked. “They just want the best for their child.”
In Williams-Bolar’s case, she recalls how the media “made me out to be a horrible villain” and questions why there isn’t more flexibility in education.
“We have so many other things out here that we want to make sure people have opportunities for. We’ll bend for this and we’ll bend for that, but education is not bendable?” she wonders. “Because education is the heartbeat of America.
“I don’t understand that we’re making parents out to be the bad person. That’s why it’s time to revamp.”
Williams-Bolar’s passion for education led her to help start Available to All, a nonpartisan watchdog defending equal access to schools.
“We should be committed to making sure all the kids, all the students – I don’t care if they have a disability, I don’t care whatever social background or whatever they’re coming from – we should be committed to making sure these children are successful,” she explained
Williams-Bolar says education leaders who move up the ranks stop prioritizing students.
In contrast, she believes in all forms of school choice, “whatever is the best for that student.”
“You’re talking to Kelley Williams-Bolar,” she declared. “I am totally on board with bending and making things available to our students that need it.”
The education landscape has changed radically since this mother tried to leave her locally zoned district in 2011. Open enrollment has become a policy in some states, and many forms of alternative education – parochial schools, home schools, and micro schools – are on the rise.
“We have to go with the times, right? We’re in 2023,” she says. “It’s different than 70 years ago, and it should be.”
But even though things have changed, more progress needs to be made, Williams-Bolar says.
“I’m not going to stop until I stop breathing,” she told The Lion. “I will go to the end to fight for parents and their children and their rights, because we’ve got rights. Parents have rights, but they [the public school establishment] don’t want to acknowledge that because again they feel like this is more like a business.”
If any parent believes they’re being denied equal access to a public school, regardless of the reason, Williams-Bolar wants to hear from them.
And even when she’s not fighting to help kids get a better education, she is still in the classroom working as a special education paraprofessional. Her students often have behavioral issues or handicaps like autism or Down syndrome.
“They are the best kids ever,” she said, adding, “Everybody is awesome, but they have a special place for me.”