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At first glance, it may not seem like Kelley Williams-Bolar has much in common with actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, the actresses embroiled in the college admissions scandal. The 48-year-old single mom works as a teacher’s aide in a high school for students with disabilities in Akron, Ohio — far from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.
Still, she says, she knows what it’s like to do something dishonest in a bid to provide her children with a better education. And she knows what it’s like to be taken into custody and appear before a judge for illegally trying to give her kids a better future.
In 2011, Williams-Bolar went to jail for falsifying her daughters’ home address, so that they could attend school in a better district than the one they were zoned for in their inner-city neighborhood.
“I wanted them to have a good start in life,” Williams-Bolar said. “I wanted to send them to one of the best schools. What I did was not in the best interest of my daughters.”
Williams-Bolar used her father’s home address as her own in 2009 so that her daughters, then ages 12 and 9, could attend school in the Copley Fairlawn School District, an affluent, mostly white school district.
Her father suggested using his address, Williams-Bolar said, because he lived in the district and wanted his grandchildren to have access to a better education. The mom of two said they had no idea they were breaking any laws until she received a postcard saying she was being indicted.
The case attracted national media attention. Ultimately, Williams-Bolar was found guilty of grand theft and tampering with evidence and sentenced to ten days in jail, three years of probation, and given a $70,000 fine.
“It was a nightmare,” Williams-Bolar said of her time behind bars. “I read the Bible all day every day. I was scared to be in there. I fell into a deep depression.”
Williams-Bolar said when she heard about Huffman and Loughlin being charged with paying a consultant to provide erroneous information to admissions counselors, in an effort to get their daughters into the colleges of their choice, she had mixed emotions. One part of her was stunned at the level of alleged dishonesty, she said. “They already had so much and just wanted more,” she said.
But the overarching emotion Williams-Bolar said she felt was compassion.
“The socioeconomic backdrop is completely different. It’s two different cases — absolutely. And they definitely were all about the status. But we’re all moms. Mothers want good education for their kids. That’s what we have in common. When I watched the video of them with their daughters, I could see the passion in their eyes for their kids. I could see the love there. They want what’s best for their kids.”
Williams-Bolar said that while a part of her feels badly for the disgraced actresses, another part hopes that justice will prevail and that Loughlin and Huffman will not be given a pass because of their wealth and status.
“I think they should have to serve some time,” she said. “I just want to know how equal this will turn out to be. I do think they’ll be treated differently because of their status. [Their attorneys will argue] they’re first-time offenders. Well, I was a first-time offender, too. A lie is a lie.”
Williams-Bolar said her advice to Huffman and Loughlin is to accept responsibility for their actions — and not try to blame others.
“Honesty is the best policy. Just be true to yourself and say, ‘Yes I did that.’ You have to stand by what you did. You have to own it and take responsibility for what happened. That’s what I did.”
Williams-Bolar said she regrets her decision to falsify her daughters’ home address.
Today, Williams-Bolar said, she’s happy with her life. She works for the Akron School District and also advocates for equal education. She's working with the Connecticut Parents Union, an education advocacy program lobbying states to no longer make it a jailable offense when parents enroll their children in school districts in which they do not reside. She says no parent should face jail time for fighting for better schooling for her children.
Her daughters, Williams-Bolar said, are her pride and joy. Her oldest, now 23, is a college graduate and her youngest is currently pursuing a degree.
“They did everything to get in to college on their own,” Willams-Bolar said. “They didn’t need any extra help.”