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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?

  • Peter Schott

    I remember walking at least 1/4 mile, probably more just to get to my bus stop. I know we have kids walking past more than 6 houses to get to our nearest Elementary School bus stop in our neighborhood. To me, the person who called the police on a boy walking to soccer practice was being a busybody more than helpful – akin to those who call CPS if they see a parent threatening a spanking. They don't realize that those calls hurt more than they help. To me – this is overreach. Sure, parents should be concerned about the safety of kids, but to threaten arrest or charges of child neglect because a kid walks or bikes to a nearby school is just too far.

    I think there should be some guidelines, but it always bothers me when schools put in a "can not walk" rule because there's no sidewalk and a kid lives next door to the school. To be picked up by a bus to be dropped off next door is a waste of time/money (and I've seen it happen) because we exhibit a lack of common sense. The stories you've shared paint pictures of kids who are doing well, in no danger from anyone except busy bodies, and then put the parents in fear of the authorities, not the criminals.

  • Judith

    Big Brother at work. This is too much governmental control. Busing kids when we can’t afford books and teachers, ridiculous

    • Toby

      Yeah, and this teacher is sick because kids get bullied, molested, and stalked sometimes on the way to school. Parents need not to have kids if they can't take care of them. I would say about 70% of the American parent population describes these type of parents.

  • Meghan

    Thanks for the feedback. I do have one question though, what about the boy who was hit by the car? He was only five and not only was he injured, but what about the woman who hit him, she was devastated (imagine if the outcome had been worse) and what about the effects of the accident on the other children who watched it happen (it was not pretty from what I'm told and there were many hysterical children and adults)? Plus the teachers, children and staff who are all having to rearrange their daily lives and routines for the next few months to accommodate the child who was hit, because his parents thought it was OK for him to be walking alone. I'm not actually taking a side of this issue (I remain very much on the fence) but was just curious as to what readers thoughts from that aspect… The effects of a child not ready to walk to school alone, but is allowed to anyway, can be far reaching into the neighborhood, the other children and other parents and teachers, should that matter? Or should it still be up to the parents and the parents alone?

  • https://www.facebook.com/meghanharvey Meghan Shuster Harvey

    Thanks for the feedback. I do have one question though, what about the boy who was hit by the car? He was only five and not only was he injured, but what about the woman who hit him, she was devastated (imagine if the outcome had been worse) and what about the effects of the accident on the other children who watched it happen (it was not pretty from what I'm told and there were many hysterical children and adults)? Plus the teachers, children and staff who are all having to rearrange their daily lives and routines for the next few months to accommodate the child who was hit, because his parents thought it was OK for him to be walking alone. I'm not actually taking a side of this issue (I remain very much on the fence) but was just curious as to what readers thoughts from that aspect… The effects of a child not ready to walk to school alone, but is allowed to anyway, can be far reaching into the neighborhood, the other children and other parents and teachers, should that matter? Or should it still be up to the parents and the parents alone?

  • Peter Schott

    I think I'm still going to go with – it's up to the parents. How far do you go with this? What about a HS kid who did something similar and should, maybe even does, know better? I hate that something like this happens, but more legislation doesn't necessarily help these things. I still see the people being overly worked up over a kid walking/biking alone as busy bodies more than those who are helpful. I understand the concerns they may have, but I really think they don't realize the massive amounts of trouble they cause for families by being "concerned" and calling the police. I do think that the schools could have a "junior crossing guard" program to help out with things like that. We had one of those in our Elementary school – it was something kids loved to volunteer for and it didn't require a paid position. Even at our local school now, the crossing guard position was held by a teacher who monitored the one major area we had for crossing a street.

    I know we're rightly concerned about these sorts of things, but a 5-year old can be injured like this by playing in his yard and chasing a stray ball. Do you legislate that kids can only play in the back yard, with an adult present, and a fence, and….? As a person who did foster care, I've seen the laws our government has made to try to make better parents and strangely enough, you can't legislate good parenting nor can you legislate away all injuries.

    One thing that may be done is better guarding around the school to keep kids crossing at appropriate places for the "walkers". No shortcuts, even if your house is directly across the street. You cross at the walk. To totally take away the ability for a child to walk or bike to school is just going too far. My opinion, and I'd like to think that even if it were my kid, I wouldn't be looking for laws to protect other kids. I'd look for better education for parents about raising kids who know better than mine did. (and not at taxpayer expense, if possible) I'm sure this comes of me being more of a free-range kid than not, but we were taught well about how to behave, avoid getting close to strangers in cars, what to do if we needed help, when to be home, how to walk or ride safely, and so on. We definitely weren't allowed out by our parents until we understood the basics and were given guidelines on being safe. (Even at 3-4 I knew how to cross a street safely, much to my parents' dismay as I'd left one day to "get some milk" at that age. Some neighbors took me in on my way home after the store was closed – and gave me that much coveted milk.. :-) )

    I appreciate you asking the question. It's a good one to ponder.

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  • ann*

    I dont know as far as making it illegal but if they children are young they need to have someone walk them. WIth all the pediphiles
    around now we cant be to safe either way. Maybe they need to teach a course to the younger kids in school about safety of walking
    to and from school also have the parent go over it also surely will help.

  • Heather

    I may seem way over protective here, but I do not allow my 12 year old daughter to walk to or from the bus stop alone. It is about 1/4 to 1/2 mile away, and either her dad or I, or one of her older siblings accompany her. One young girl disappearing is one too many, and while I do not want it to happen to ANYONE, I can ensure that it will not happen to my daughter. I am not so sure that law enforcement should be threatening parents like this, but I think parents should be looking at their children like the precious gift they are. Would you put $10,000 on a remote control car and send it down the same path at the same time every day and expect that no one would bother it? Of course not. But people do it with their children. But, would the police arrest you if you did put $10,000 on the car and sent it on its way? No, they would just call you crazy,,,,,

  • Ruth

    I often wonder why children at young ages are allowed to walk home alone. I have seen some as young as 7 walking by themselves. I can't help but think their should be a standard set as to what age a child should be before being allowed to walk home

    • Toby

      As a teacher, I agree! I taught in a middle class neighborhood, and kids were stalked, molested, and bullied en route to school and yet, children ages 5-9 were left to walk alone. Not okay in this crazy world of ours, where no one knows your neighbor, let alone the people in your town or city. IT SHOULD BE ILLEGAL.

  • Holly S.

    This is ridiculous. It is totally up to the parent and if they think their children are ready. Granted, there are those who couldn't care less about where their kids are, but the majority of parents out there take into account age, maturity, safety issues, etc., before they make this decision. Our society is "dumbing down" at an alarming rate, and will only continue to do so if they government insists on holding our hands whether we want them to or not.

    • Toby

      Yes, dumbing down alright. Your comment is "dumbing down".

  • amyorvin

    not sure about this one. It's pretty dangerous to walk home alone these days!

  • Andrew Gordon

    wow, it is sad how much things have changed since I was a kid. Can't say I totally agree with the govt getting involved in this.

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  • Cynthia C

    Even when I was little, decades and decades ago, my mom had an older child accompany me on the walk to school. It's too bad some parents don't use common sense with their kids. Today traffic is only one of the worries. I hate to see laws governing parenthood, but when parents don't step up, it's the kids who suffer.

  • Patrice

    On one hand, I think it should be left up to the parents to decide when a child is old enough and savvy enough to get to school on their own, but on the other hand, I know that there are many bad people out there and that children can certainly be at risk when they are alone. In the case of the 5 year old who was hit with the car, I think that is far too young to be out by yourself. I think that 9 or 10 is a more appropriate age to be walking to school by yourself, but even at that age, I would prefer that the child is walking in a group, or at least with one other child.

    • Toby

      Across America, there are many kids, age 5, 6, and 7, walking to school ALONE. It is ridiculous.

  • http://www.mgltelecoms.com justin

    This is one of the reasons why I am very protective with my daughter. Many parents might not agree with how I choose to bring up my daughter but I couldn't care less. I'd rather be safe than sorry. Last thing I would want to happen is for her to be run over by a car or some stranger kidnapping her. I shudder at the thought. I would just die if something happened to her.

  • JuliannaSmith

    Well, it isn't illegal. However, for me, it's not good as well to let our child walk home alone. Because as a mother, the idea of my children being harmed or lost is not something anyone wants to consider. Then I found an article by anationofmoms about a service that can protect your family via your cell phone. And, at the bottom there is an opportunity to enter a drawing for 6 months of that service just by liking them on Facebook. You might find it interesting: http://anationofmoms.com/2011/08/protect-your-fam

  • Janette

    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?

    Yes! Cities and schools should decide when a child should or shouldn't go to school alone since too many parents lack common sense to make good decisions. If a child is too young to tell the authorities his/her home phone number or home address and full name then that child is too young to walk to school alone. If the child is naive as to approach unknown vehicles to interact with strangers then that child is not mature enough to walk to school alone. There's so many pedophiles and other sickos out there looking to cause harm. Didn't a pair of evil sickos kidnap a 11 year old girl Jaycee Dugard walking to school?! Have you ever seen a young screaming kicking child being hauled out of a store by an adult? Would you really know if that adult was the parent or guardian of that screaming child?

  • Suzanne K

    I find this to be an incredibly sad statement on the state of our society on so many levels! Sad that it's not safe to let our kids run and play in their own neighborhood (and that they can't walk to school in their own neighborhood), sad that some parents have poor judgement in this area, and sad that the government has to start getting involved. Solutions? This goes to the root of our society where it's just not so safe anymore, for anyone at any age, not just kids. I wish I had ideas on how to fix this, but I don't. That having been said, it is the society in which we live, and keeping our precious children safe is our job, so I err on the side of caution!

  • tiffany mocerino

    I have boy/girl twins and there was this story a couple of years back about twin boy / girl walking home from school and they had a little fight so the sister ran ahead of her brother. She was caught by a predator who raped and killed her :( so sad

  • mal kaplan

    perhaps a good idea is to have rotating volunteers amongst the parents at crossings..with so many parents surely it would not greatly impact on them and it would help the situation..but i do not think it should be illegal..maybe raise the age to 7..as a suggestion not an illegality for children walking alone..(and depeding on distance)

  • Mandy

    I think that the city/school can recommend an age, but ultimately it should be up to the parent.

  • Kelly

    Parents should definitely be the ones to make the call. With the obesity epidemic, walking should really be encouraged these days.

  • Sasha

    Authorities should make the call. There are a lot of unfit parents out there who don’t have good judgement, haven’t taught their kids the proper safety precautions and/or don’t care…. and because these kids are kids it’s only right to protect them.

  • Molly Bussler

    I don't believe in letting young children walk to school alone, it is so dangerous out there and everyone isn't nice.

  • http://hotcouponscoolsavings.com Doreen

    If a law is going to protect just one child from getting hurt, kidnapped, raped or worse, then so be it. There are many things that can happen to a child if they are alone and they just aren't old enough to have the ability process every situation. I also think it is really wrong to make children responsible for their own safety, ultimately it is the parents responsibility .

  • heather c

    I've seen so many tragic stories that start off with a child walking to or from school…alone. There are so many things that can go wrong, including dangerous bullies (locally, a child was caught pushing other kids into traffic), kidnappers and general traffic dangers. If the parents aren't doing anything when the walking is happening, why not join them?

  • mal k.

    it should not be illegal..however common sense should prevail…walking always with several others with perhaps the eldest or the one with most common sense to be the "leader"…if a parent cannot walk the child to child. and to havae volunteer parents supervising various routes to the school.

  • http://www.hastebc.org omar

    i'm wondering when i can get more information about the child in vancouver who was prevented from walking home by himself. i'm from vancouver, work in the field of active and safe routes to school, haven't heard of this happening and can find no other information about it happening. do you have a link to an article, a name or anything i might be able to use to find out more? thanks

  • pop23

    sorry

  • smilie1236

    its too danger to walk alone and a kid under 8 walk to school alone

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  • Tootie

    As a former SF teacher, I strongly feel that elementary kids should not be allowed to walk to school by themselves. I think that this law is good. There are too many stories of molestation, rape, bullying, accidents, dog bites, etc. A parents job is to protect their children.

  • heather

    i believe a parent knows when the child is ready to be trusted with the danger and understandment of most of the danger around these days but if a 5 year old can fly to another country by itself without it been a connecting flight and there is an adult is there when boarding and then again unboarding after all the trouble we have had with terrorist etc etc they ought to rethink the safegaurding procedures as i would trust my 6 year old to walk to school but never to take a flight