Kids can now get themselves to school - and parents won't get arrested

kids bike to school
CC BY 2.0 BikeWalk KC

The first-ever federal 'free range parenting' legislation was signed earlier this month, freeing parents from civil or criminal charges for allowing kids independence on their way to school.

Free-range parents, rejoice! It is now legal for your kid to walk to school alone, which means you don't have to worry about getting arrested for letting your kid out the door unaccompanied. When President Obama signed the “Every Student Succeeds Act” earlier this December, he signed into law the first-ever federal “free-range kids” legislation. Now parents are free to do the job they’re meant to do – parenting their kids the way they see fit – without fearing legal repercussions.

Supported by Utah Senator Mike Lee, who’s a supporter of the free-range kids movement headed by Lenore Skenazy, the relevant part of the Act reads as follows:

The law will not “prohibit 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; or 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.” (pg. 857 of the ESSA)

This is refreshing news after a year of awful stories about parents being punished for letting their kids leave the house without a full security detail. You probably remember the story of the Meitiv children, picked up by police less than a mile from home and held for hours by Child Protective Services, just because they were allowed to walk alone from a nearby playground. The parents were investigated twice.

The number of investigations and arrests of parents for so-called neglect of children is alarmingly on the rise. In an article for the New York Post, Skenazy quotes David Pimentel, a law professor from Idaho who specializes in parental liability. Pimentel says that parents today are three times more likely to be targeted [by the legal system for what are essentially free-range parenting practices] than even three years ago.

While the federal law does not override state and municipal restrictions, it’s an important step forward in understanding that children need independence in order to develop into responsible, confident adults who are capable of making their way in the world without constant supervision. Hopefully it will encourage others to create similar legislation to normalize what was once considered perfectly acceptable behaviour. It also serves as a reminder that there are other, bigger problems facing America today than kids walking to school alone, especially at a time when crime rates are down to where they were in 1963 – pretty low, in other words.

As Skenazy wrote on her blog earlier this year, "Children have the right to some unsupervised time, and parents have the right to give it to them without getting arrested.” Finally some progress is being made in that direction.

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