A Pennsylvania couple lied about their address in order to send their daughter to kindergarten in a wealthier district. They were not the only parents committing such an act, but both the only minority parents and the only ones criminally prosecuted. They were also, before an extensive media battle and plea deal, once facing up to seven years in prison.
Hamlet and Olesia Garcia, respectively Cuban and Ukrainian Americans, faced seven years in prison and away from their daughter before pleading guilty to sending their child to a school district that would better educate her in their estimation. Olesia Garcia used her father’s address, who does live in the district, rather than their own to enroll five-year-old Fiorella in school. They are now being held to pay the school district almost $11,000 that the district contends was the cost of their child’s education, which the couple did not pay in residential taxes.
While the Moreland County Prosecutor happily told the press that the couple had been “brought to justice” and that paying for the child’s education was “all this is about,” the Garcias and their lawyer note that they are the only minority family of the fifteen cases known to the county of such fraud, and the only ones facing criminal prosecution. Ricardo Corona, the attorney for the couple, accused the district of setting an example with the Garcias so that the district does not attract any more Latino or other minority students, maintaining the white demographics of that community. “What they have there is a very exclusive, elitist community,” Corona told the press, “whites, intellectuals, and professionals – that are scared that this school system is going to attract the riff-raff, baggy-pants members of the black and Hispanic communities down the street.”
The couple and their daughter have received widespread support from community activists and others who support the idea of parents having full choice over where to send their children to school. Their campaign on social media has been significantly fueled by prayer and invocations of their faith, and they have even received special prayers from celebrity Episcopalian clergyman Padre Alberto Cutié.
While the ordeal is over for the family, Fiorella Garcia will now have to switch schools to a community of which her parents never wanted their child to be a part. The family will also have to pay the astronomical bill at hand – one Hamlet Garcia says is intended to “send a message” to minorities not to attempt any escapes into wealthy white neighborhoods – and their legal fees. The family has set up a public legal defense fund to which supporters can send donations here.