New US law says kids can walk to school by themselves

After years of documenting instances in which parents and kids are terrorized by law enforcement and child welfare authorities because the kids were allowed to be on their own in public places, the Free Range Kids movement has gotten some justice: a new Federal law gives its official okey-doke to parents who let their kids get to school on their own.

Section 8542 of the Every Student Succeeds Act specifically does not limit "a child from traveling to and from school on foot or by car, bus, or bike when the parents of the child have given permission" nor does it "expose parents to civil or criminal charges for allowing their child to responsibly and safely travel to and from school by a means the parents believe is age appropriate."

It's a largely symbolic victory, alas, as this does not preclude state and local dunderheads from passing laws that put parents in jeopardy for allowing their kids to be in public unaccompanied.

Today, the combination of "stranger danger" fear and overzealous police leads to interference and intimidation. "Across the country," says free-range kids activist Lenore Skenazy, "parents are getting harassed and even arrested when they let their kids leave the house without a security detail."

In an article for the New York Post, Skenazy points out that kids today are actually in less danger as they wander the streets alone than their parents ever were. "Ironically, kids walking to school today are actually very safe—safer than their parents were. The crime level is back to what it was in 1963," she says. "As Sen. Lee wrote in an e-mail to me, ‘America faces great challenges today. Kids walking to school with their parents’ permission is not one of them.’"

Federal Law Now Says Kids Can Walk To School Alone [Charlie Sorrel/Fast Company]

(Image: Walking To School, Elizabeth, CC-BY)

(via /.)

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  1. renke says:

    this is something I will never understand: why is it so common in the US to see autonomous children as neglected outliers?

    it's sad that a law is needed to explicitly permit parents to let the kids outside.

  2. I suspect that it is partially down to wildly skewed risk perception(despite what the crime stats say, the number of gruesome crimes you see on The Fear Channel hasn't gone down, so clearly the world is going to hell); and partially down to the fact that, there are nontrivial swaths of the US where if you aren't driving or being driven, something pretty odd is going on.

    We don't lack urban cores and patches of walkable development; but in a fair few suburban areas you basically aren't a real person until you can drive; because there isn't anything you can do or anywhere you can go without a fairly arduous slog, often across terrain with limited sidewalks(because who needs sidewalks when pedestrians are a freak occurrence?)

  3. Looking back at when I started middle school and could walk to and from school I feel pretty bad that I spent a lot of time cutting through peoples' back yards.

    On the other hand there were no sidewalks and the one thing I learned in geometry class is the shortest distance between two points is over the creek and through the woods.

  4. Walking to school was a big part of growing up for me. The first time I was allowed to do it by myself was huge for my ego, and after that it was a fun part of my day with my school friends.

    And this was in an urban environment in the 70's. Suburban kids not walking to school sort of challenges the rationale behind living in the suburbs.

  5. The municipality where I live is fairly good about this. My kids' school has a form for keeping track of how students leave school each day. This includes possible bussing, which people are allowed to take them from school, and starting in sixth grade whether or not the children are allowed to walk home unaccompanied. But I think I see younger children walk to school without adults as well.

    This was the philosophy my ex-spouse adhered to. And the crazy thing is that our school and food store were less than a half-mile from our old house. The kids' doctor and dentist are only about a mile away. Yet, my ex insisted that we both needed to drive "just because that's what people do" - despite their complaints of how lazy people are, and how difficult it is to stay fit. I have had some local employers within walking distance turn me down due to not driving, despite there being no need to either drive there or on the job.

    But "until" implies that it happens eventually, which isn't the case with me. I used to not use a car for ecological and political reasons, but now I have medical reasons why I can't drive one. Yet I still get grief from my family about it. Also, my ex had somehow rationalized that driving her truck was supposedly much safer than public transportation, such as our local busses and trains. Again, there didn't seem to be any real risk assessment going on.

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