Kids Walking to School Alone Could Be Illegal?

Last week a little boy from my daughter’s first grade class was hit by a car. It was quite scary for everyone; the injuries were serious enough for a medical helicopter to come air lift him to children’s hospital. I don’t know all the details about what happened, only that he had run home (across the street from the school) and was running back to the school. Though his injuries are serious, he will make a full recovery thankfully in part to the fact the driver was not going very fast when the boy darted out between two parked cars and into the street.

This of course has brought the school board into the mix and has everyone talking about driver and pedestrian safety around the schools, the possible need for getting our crossing guards back (thanks to budget cuts they are no more) and of course the other question that always pops up, at what age should you allow your child to walk to and from school alone?

I wrestle with this one anyway, but have even more so these last few days. We live behind our school, there is no street to cross and it takes less than five minutes for my kids to reach their classrooms from our front door. During drop off and pick off times the walk from our house to the school is filled with other kids and parents. It’s pretty much as safe a walk as you can get for your child. But I still walk my kids to school each day and walk to pick them up. My daughter is in first and personally that’s not old enough for me to let her walk alone, my son is in third grade and I am on the fence with the idea of letting him walk to school alone. But he is not ready to make sure his younger sister gets to class, so the question is pointless, because even if he was ready to walk alone, I’d still be there walking his sister.

I see the age when parents allow kids to walk alone varies in our neighborhood (the first grader who was hit is only five). I think parents need to think hard about their specific situation before making the decision. They need to examine a number of things before making that call. How close are you to the school? How many streets are there to cross and how busy are those streets? Is your child going to be walking in a steady stream of school foot traffic or alone? How familiar is your child with the rules of the road, and does he or she understand those rules? And also, can you get arrested for letting your child go off to school alone?

Yes, I said arrested. That’s right, what many parents may not realize is that in some communities the police have already made rules about when your child can bike or walk to school without an adult.

From Mississippi to British Columbia there have been more stories cropping up about parents getting into trouble for letting their child bike or walk to school alone. A mother in Mississippi was threatened with a child endangerment charge for letting her 10-year-old walk a mile to soccer practice after passersby saw the boy and called 911. Another mother in Vancouver, British Columbia, was at home worrying for her first grader not knowing that school officials prevented him from walking himself home — six houses away.

Most recently, a mom in Tennessee was threatened with criminal charges for letting her child ride a bike to school. The mother has complained to the police since the day her daughter was escorted home by a police officer. The mother reports that she was told that until the officer can speak with Child Protective Services, “if I allow my daughter to ride/walk to school I will be breaking the law and treated accordingly.” When asked what law she would be breaking she was told the answer was “child neglect.”

So before you make your decision as to whether your little one should be walking or biking to school alone take a moment to call your local police department or ask the school what age they recommend.

What do you think? Should cities and schools be making the decision about when a child should or shouldn’t go to school alone or should parents?

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