Kelley Williams-Bolar

Kelley Williams-Bolar Credit: MCT/Karen Schiely

Call this saga "parenting while black." In the latest episode, a mother is jailed for enrolling her children in a school outside their district. Her home district is predominantly black, and the one in which she enrolled her children is predominantly white.

That's the story playing out in Akron, Ohio, where Kelley Williams-Bolar has just been released into the glare of a public scrutiny that has much more to do with us, as a society, than her as an individual. And while it's taking place in Ohio, there are lessons for us here.

A single mother of two daughters living in public housing, Williams-Bolar juggled parenting, work as a teacher's aide, college, and tight funds to realize her dreams of a better life. When her apartment was broken into, her father welcomed the family to live with him part-time. The daughters were enrolled in the elite Copley-Fairlawn School District where he lived.

But Williams-Bolar was arrested on grand theft charges (which were ultimately dropped) and convicted last month of falsifying documents.

Of course, in such cases, the school district that should feel "robbed" is the one students flee, which can lose per-student state aid. That's the real tragedy of schools that, 57 years after Brown v. Board of Education, are too often segregated by race and class. When kids with motivated parents find a way out of poorer schools, the brain-drain and lost funds further hurt test scores and performance.

As films like "Waiting for Superman" and "The Lottery" have documented, for children of traditionally marginalized populations locked in systemic low-performing schools, working hard and doing well do not, necessarily, lead to academic success.

For social justice and parenting advocacy groups, Williams-Bolar has become the poster mom for children's rights to a decent public education. And for educational disparity so pervasive that it resonates throughout the country, and certainly on Long Island, Akron City and Copley-Fairlawn School Districts should be seen as symbols, too.

Housing patterns on Long Island in large measure continue to reflect the restrictive racial covenants that characterized Levittown in the postwar 1950s, and the schools are largely segregated in tandem.

Witness the recent threat of the struggling Wyandanch school district to disband, as a solution to its financial woes. As the misguided - albeit frustrated - thinking seemed to go: Wealthier nearby districts, horrified by the prospects of having black children flood into their schools - would do everything in their power to help save Wyandanch.

This insidious business of segregated schools is something I know well. In the wake of the Brown decision, I was one of the four children selected to end New York's de facto segregated neighborhood school plan. Ironically, it's because my parents switched me out of our Sugar Hill district in Manhattan that I was chosen. My parents used a cousin's address to enroll me in a brand-new central Harlem elementary school, P.S. 133, where New York's first African-American female principal, Margaret Douglas, was building a team of progressive teachers.

Mrs. Douglas had the nerve, credentials and test scores to lobby for four of her students to have the "honor" of being the test children whose success would determine the viability of New York's integration plan.

Our days in our new school, the formerly all-white P.S. 98, were difficult. But our parents and supporters assured us third-graders that because of what we were doing, other children would never again suffer the indignities we'd been exposed to.

With the plight of the Williams-Bolar family and millions more, the strife of school desegregation seems for naught. But, my faith in the future tells me that our society - in its own enlightened self-interest - will someday see advantage in fairness and disadvantage in the endless conflicts required to defend an indefensible status quo.

DON'T MISS THIS LIMITED-TIME OFFER1 5 months for only $1Save on Unlimited Digital Access