"Left" to walk home. As if the mom is abandoning her kids rather than trusting them.
The story, which I chronicled earlier this month, involves Jessie Thompson, a mom of three children ages 9, 10 and 11, who attend Spann Elementary School in Summerville, South Carolina. They already walk alone in that neighborhood — and look both ways before crossing — on their way to their extracurriculars. But the principal has said they can't without an adult — too dangerous. Thompson must come pick up the kids, or the school will put them on the bus.
The school is situated off a four-lane highway, mistakenly identified as a six-lane highway by the TV reporter. (It has extra turning lanes.) "The Thompson family lives on one side of the parkway and Spann Elementary School is on the other," intoned the reporter as the camera dramatically zoomed out to illustrate the intersection.
It has a crosswalk as well as "Walk/Don't Walk" signs. If the school believes no child can traverse this safely, why not station a crossing guard there rather than insisting that each and every parent come fetch their kids?
The bus ride takes longer than the walk and, during COVID-19, actually seems less safe than the fresh air option. As for a insisting a parent come pick up the kids, this is a burden on anyone who can't afford to leave her job in the middle of the day. And we must assume that child protective services has better things to do than investigate parents whose kids walk home from school.
For Thompson, the issue is simple: Why is the school allowed to dictate what kids do once they leave school property? A lawyer for the district, Christy Graham, said the school is wary of liability issues. An "additional concern of the district for our students is not to be harmed."
But how far into the children's home life does the school's right to be "concerned" extend? On evenings and weekends, it doesn't dictate where the kids can walk. And the village hasn't erected signs: "PARENTS! DO NOT LET YOUR KIDS CROSS THIS STREET!"
"I am not naive. It is a major intersection," Thompson said. But just because it's not 1,000% safe does not mean it is 1,000% dangerous. That's a truth we have lost in our black-and-white, litigiously minded culture.
No intersection can be guaranteed 1,000% safe — but neither can a car ride to or from the school. Indeed, car passenger deaths are the No. 1 way children in America die. Still, no one stops parents from driving their kids home. How come?
Because, as a country, we are not really criminalizing danger. We're criminalizing parents who don't helicopter. Which means we are criminalizing childhood independence.
With any luck, South Carolina will pass the Reasonable Childhood Independence Bill that had passed the Senate unanimously and was working its way toward the House before COVID-19 shut the legislature down.
Parents know their kids best. If they believe their kids are ready for a time-honored independence milestone, they should not be threatened with an investigation for neglect. Not by schools, not by the media and not by other people who don't know their kids.