Skenazy: The right of kids to walk to school

Lenore Skenazy

Who’s that peeking out from behind the blinds as the kids pass by the house? Could it be the kind of creep every parent dreads?

You know — a busybody ready to call 911 to report an unsupervised child?

Soon enough, we may not have to worry about that anymore. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, a supporter of the “free-range kids” movement, has proposed groundbreaking federal legislation to protect the rights of kids who want to walk to school on their own and the rights of parents who let them.

A free-range kids provision made its way into the Every Child Achieves Act, a reauthorization of a major federal law that governs funding and regulation of elementary education in the United States. The free-range part would permit kids to walk or ride their bikes to school at an age their parents deem appropriate, without the threat of civil or criminal action.

Laws such as this one could deter local officials from waging harassment campaigns against parents who want to give their kids some old-fashioned independence. Had this been the law of the land when the Meitivs allowed their kids to walk home by themselves in Maryland, it might have prevented two police interventions, two investigations by Child Protective Services, two “safety plans” the parents were forced to sign and one five-hour detainment of the kids.

The Senate passed the act this month. Now the House and the Senate must hammer out any discrepancies between their respective versions before revoting and sending the legislation on to President Barack Obama. That means Obama could sign actual free-range legislation into law.

The major threats to parents raising free-range kids are actually at the state and local levels, but Lee was looking for some way to get federal support for their rights.

“Like many parents, I’ve been disturbed by recent stories of parents being prosecuted for giving their children the kind of age-appropriate independence that adults today remember as normal and happy parts of their own childhoods,” the senator wrote me in an email. “Unsupervised adventure is part of how children learn, and grow, and build the skills and friendships that prepare them for life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.”

Politicians are waking up to the free-range idea, which is an American idea: Kids have the right to be part of the world. And parents have the right to send their kids outside, the way our parents did.

Lenore Skenazy is author of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids.”