What lengths would some parents go to in order to provide their children with a better education?
In Monday’s America Tonight report (watch parts one and two), special correspondent Soledad O’Brien profiled parents who send their children to better public schools outside their home districts and school administrators who are ramping up efforts to root out “boundary-hoppers.”
Often, getting caught can mean expulsion for a student or the parents paying back tuition since schools are funded by local property taxes. But in at least seven states and the District of Columbia, parents who lie to schools about their student’s residence can face time in jail.
The severity of states’ laws varies greatly, as do the punishments for families that are caught. America Tonight explores the range of consequences that so-called boundary-hoppers can face.
Ohio: Kelley Williams-Bolar
Working as a teacher’s aide, Kelley Williams-Bolar was aware of the risks involved in enrolling her daughters in schools outside of the boundaries of her home district. But living in a housing project in Akron, Ohio, and wanting a better life for her daughters, Williams-Bolar registered them in the Copley-Fairlawn schools in August 2006. The address the girls were registered under belonged to Williams-Bolar’s father, whom she said lived just down the road and within the borders of Copley Township. Three years later, Williams-Bolar was arrested on two felony counts of tampering with official records after a district investigation found that her real residence was the housing project in a different district.
Even though she said she had given her father the power of attorney, Williams-Bolar was convicted on the felony counts and served nine days in jail in 2011.
The story generated national outrage. A petition to free her went viral, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich ultimately pardoned her, downgrading her convictions to misdemeanors.
New York: Yolanda Miranda
In 2008, Yolanda Miranda dropped off her four children every morning at her mother’s house, located in the Greece School District near Rochester, N.Y., where she and her kids used to live. After school, the children were bused back to the grandmother’s home, before their mother picked them up and returned them to their home, which is covered by the much worse Rochester City School District. Miranda signed a shared housing form with the district, saying that she lived with her mother for health or financial reasons.
Then, in February 2009, Miranda was arrested on several charges, including grand larceny, as part of a four-month investigation by Greece schools. The district estimated that taxpayers spent about $28,000 to send Miranda’s children to elementary and secondary schools. Miranda’s case wasn’t a new occurrence for the district, which had asked children to leave in at least 28 cases the year before, according to Kevin Degnan, the private investigator on the Miranda case.
But Miranda, whose charges were later reduced to a misdemeanor, doesn’t regret spending time in jail for her kids’ sake.
“If I had to do it again 10 times over, I would,” Miranda said to The Daily in 2012.
Kentucky: Charles Lauron, John Buehner, Jim McGuire and Dawne Grigsby
Over a couple months, a number of parents all had the same idea to attempt to enroll their children in Oldham County Schools in Kentucky – even if they didn’t live in the appropriate boundaries. At the time of the four incidents, there were almost 50 cases of boundary hopping to OCS that were under investigation.
In 2011, Charles Lauron, a single father from Louisville, was informed that he was facing a charge of felony theft by deception for enrolling his son in OCS. Lauron, who was living in nearby Lyndon at the time, was confronted with a bill of $26,000 and threatened with up to 10 years in prison.
Following Lauron was John Buehner, who was living in Jefferson County. He was charged for restitution on the first 32 days of the school year, which amounted to about $600.
Soon thereafter, OCS sought legal action against Jim McGuire for using another address for enrollment. (The child’s primary resident was with his mother, Cheryl, in Jefferson County.) The couple was charged with more than $1,700 in restitution, according to WAVE.
Then, the same investigators who were used in the McGuire case were used against Dawne Grigsby, who used her mother’s address to enroll her two children.
Pennsylvania: Olesia and Hamlet Garcia
While Hamlet and Olesia Garcia were separated in 2011, Olesia and their 5-year-old daughter moved from Philadelphia to her father’s in Lower Moreland, Pa., where Fiorella attended Pine Road Elementary School. After the couple reconciled, they decided to keep their daughter in Montgomery County for the last two months of the school year. That summer, the county’s district attorney filed criminal theft of service charges against the Garcias, saying there was no evidence of Fiorella ever living in Lower Moreland.
“They said, ‘Wait a minute. Let’s get the Garcia family to make an example,’” Hamlet Garcia told America Tonight, “‘to make sure that everybody knows in Philadelphia, you try to cross that border, this can happen to you.’”
The trial is set to begin next week.
Illinois: Annette Callahan
In November 2011, Illinois’ Beach Park School District threatened to arrest Annette Callahan for enrolling two of her children. The threat came after it was discovered that her children were attending school while enrolled under their father’s address in the district, while she lived in Waukegan. Callahan and her husband, Samuel, are divorced, but maintained joint custody of the children.
Beach Park accused Callahan and her husband of falsifying residency, citing that the children spend more time with their mother, according to Dropout Nation.
“I am not a lawyer, but I know that the residency of the parent does matter,” she told Dropout Nation. “And my husband lives in the district … there is no 24-hour requirement.”
Callahan caught a break. In January 2012, the school board agreed to allow her children to remain in the district. The agreement was contingent on the parents making a concrete plan for the children to live within the school’s boundaries.
Connecticut: Tanya McDowell
Tanya McDowell didn’t have many options for enrolling her son in kindergarten. Homeless, unemployed and bouncing back and forth between living in a homeless shelter and a minivan, the single mother enrolled her son at Brookside Elementary in Norwalk, Conn., in 2010, using the address of her babysitter.
Her son had been in school for almost five months when the district discovered that young A.J. did not live within the district. McDowell was arrested in April 2011 on first-degree larceny charges. An investigation by the school district concluded that McDowell stole almost $16,000 in educational services, which was also the estimated cost for educating a child in 2010, according to (The (Stamford) Advocate.
“I had no idea whatsoever that if you enroll your child in another school district, it becomes a crime,” McDowell told The Advocate.
She pleaded guilty to the charges in February 2012, but it wasn’t the end of her troubles. In June of that year, she was arrested for selling marijuana and crack to an undercover cop on two different occasions outside her home. She would be sentenced to five years in prison on the drug charges, and vowed to continue to fight for a better education for her son. “Who would have thought that wanting a good education for my son would put me in this predicament?” McDowell said during her March 2012 sentencing. “I have no regrets seeking a better education for him, I do regret my participation in this drug case.”
Connecticut: Marie Menard and Ana Wade
Ana Wade’s two sons were living with their grandmother, Marie Menard, as the boys were attending Chapel Street School in Stratford, Conn., in 2009. Even though Wade had been living in an apartment in nearby Milford since 2007, her children would spend five school days a week at their grandmother’s place. After an initial investigation was closed due to a lack of evidence that Wade’s children didn’t live in the district, the case was reopened in 2010 when a Stratford parent listed Wade as an emergency contact, with her address being in Milford.
The district claimed that the mother-grandmother duo had stolen almost $40,000 for three years worth of tuition for the two boys, according to the Connecticut Post. Wade and Menard, who were arrested in October 2010 on first-degree larceny charges, ended up accepting accelerated probation, going on a monthly payment plan to pay $13,300 in restitution.
But the Connecticut cases eventually brought about a change in how the state handles these cases. In May, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed a law that prohibits boundary-hopping cases to be chargeable under larceny statutes. Now, cases like the ones involving McDowell or Menard and Wade would be handled by an administrative hearing officer, and parents would be allowed to appeal whatever decision is made by the officer to the state’s board of education.
Are there solutions to America’s educational disparities? Join us Wednesday, Jan. 22, for a Branch conversation with Soledad O’Brien and leading education journalists and advocates about the inequities at play and efforts to solve them.