Overprotecting Gone Mad: Kids Finally Allowed to Bike to School, BUT…..

Hi Readers! Remember that case  in Saratoga, New York, where a sixth (now seventh) grader wanted to ride his bike to his school — with his mom, even! — but the district forbade it?

Well guess what? The district poobahs have now “backpedaled,” as this clever Times Union article put it. But they did it in a way that makes us convinced they still have their heads down where most of us have our bike seats. Listen to the rules kids must obey (or else!) if they want to ride to school:

“…under the new rules, students and parents must sign a safety agreement and registration form. Once on school property, students are required to walk their bikes on approved access routes, store and lock them in racks provided by the district and display identification tags. The district also calls for parents or guardians to accompany student cyclists on its properties, and for both to wear helmets.

The parents have to walk their middle schoolers and their bikes once on school property? I can’t even walk within a mile of my kids’ middle school when they’re around. They’d die of embarrassment. This is treating adolescents like three-year-olds!

As Kaddo Marino, the gutsy mom who has been fighting the school district, put it:

“These regulations appear to be just another obstruction to a parents’ freedom, and if challenged, probably could not be supported,” she said. “When I was first informed that bike racks will be provided, I was pleased, but that feeling quickly diminished when I heard a list of requirements that the district is imposing on those students and families who choose a more healthy, environmentally friendly mode of transportation.”

Why would a school want its kids to never get off their duffs? What kind of “safety” is it providing, if the kids are going to grow up without using their muscles, without having adventures, without learning a sense of direction and self-reliance? How safe is a human blimp choking in a smog-filled city?

And since when does a citizen of the Free World have to fill out PAPERWORK to get on his bike and ride to school? — Lenore

51 Responses

  1. Also note “…for both to wear helmets”. So the parent or guardian walking the child, on school property, to the approved bike rack, must ALSO be wearing a helmet.
    That seems reasonable to me……..

  2. I guess the helmets while walking are in case they both suddenly fall over while walking their bikes to the racks?

  3. What about elbow and knee pads! 😉

  4. My daughter’s school has paperwork for bike riders….but it’s optional. If you fill in the paperwork, and wear the little sensor that goes on your helmet so that you get checked in when you get to school, your bike riding gets charted with everyone else’s so that we can see how many miles everyone has ridden.

    If someone is riding their bike unsafely near the school during arrival time, I think staff handles it by yelling at them to knock it off.

    Here’s the program they use to track bikers (and walkers, too): http://www.freiker.org/bp/Home

  5. “And since when does a citizen of the Free World have to fill out PAPERWORK to get on his bike and ride to school?”

    Since they voluntarily agreed to attend that school and abide by its rules. Of course, the budding young citizen didn’t actually agree to it — their parents did, on their behalf.

    When you take the king’s shilling, there’s no way to avoid becoming the king’s man.

    Or:

    “The only way to win the game is not to play.”

  6. As a bicyclist, if they are worried about safety, they would place restrictions on the parents driving kids to school instead of children on bikes. Bikers have to watch out for drivers that are oblivious to other youngsters while talking on cell phones. (I almost was hit on Monday from a cell phone talker.)

  7. Absolutely ridiculous. And we wonder why kids don’t take more responsibility.

  8. budding justice, voluntarily choosing means something different with public schools, since for most it’s the school that is linked to where they live, so that’s where their kids go, whether they like it or not. Maybe this is another small reason in favor of the argument for school choice when choosing schools, but that’s for another day…🙂

  9. @ Damaged Justice- Of course, if it’s a public school, it’s not the king’s shilling, it’s out of their own back pocket, and they’ll be paying it whether or not their kids attend school there.

  10. Driving is statistically soooo much more risky than biking.
    I’m surprised that the car-driving contingent don’t need
    written permission to bring their kids to school.

  11. I get the thing about registering, tagging and locking bikes, though. What the school doesn’t need is endless claims of liability whenever some kid’s bike gets stolen. You don’t follow the procedure, the school’s not liable.

    But the rest is hogwash.

  12. I blame an overly litigious society. If the kid got hurt on the way or the bike got stolen during the school day, you know there are people out there who would see dollar signs. It sucks that schools — and other institutions — have to think like that. It sucks that nowhere in the process is anyone standing up and saying, “You know, accidents happen sometimes and they’re no one’s fault. Let’s all get a grip.”

  13. Not to be devil’s advocate, but I have to say that I almost understand where the schools are coming from. Most officials don’t really want to stifle children’s activities, they want to stifle lawsuits. We live in a very litigious society, and what I think the school system fears is that one, however unlikely event that would bankrupt the school.

    I wonder how closely these ridiculous rules will be enforced. Often school officials feel that the rule being in place is enough to ward off lawsuits.

    It’s the same reason we have to have notices telling us not to use our hair dryers in the bath tub, or that our coffee is, indeed, hot. People will use any situation as a money making opportunity. I blame that for a lot of our modern ills.

  14. Registration forms: Silly.
    Requirement to walk bikes: Lily-livered.
    Requirement for parents to come with children: Asinine.
    Requirement for helmets: The one and only good idea in the whole list of rules.

  15. Requirement to walk bikes: when I was in elem school we had this rule on school grounds. The purpose was to keep the 6th graders from running over the little Kinders. On the presumably crowded sidewalks approaching the building, it makes some sense- because the driveway will be too full of cars from people dropping off kids. Our local schools put the bike racks at the edge of the school yard, so they barely even come onto school grounds.

    Requirement for helmets: A reasonable rule, for the kids. Helmets ARE a good idea for adults too, and I wear one. But requiring the adults to wear them is outside the scope of a school’s authority.

  16. *sigh*

    I can see requiring kids to walk their bikes once they get onto school property – it can get pretty jam-packed in the morning and when school lets out, so walking a bike until you’re clear of kids running everywhere/cars weaving in and out to the pick up area seems like a reasonable requirement.

    A minimum of paperwork also seems reasonable – having kids register their bikes might be useful if the bike is stolen while on school property and if enough kids are riding their bikes, could help make sure that there’s enough space for all the bikes. We had to register our cars in high school if we wanted to park on the school lot – there were assigned spaces and it was first come-first served and it helped prevent fights over spaces and so forth – so something along the same lines for bikes seems like it could make sense. Assuming that’s what the paperwork is for.

    But requiring parents/guardians to walk with the kids until they park their bikes? And to wear helmets while walking said bikes?? I have to agree with Frances – seems like those rules are the school’s attempt to CYA in case of a lawsuit resulting from allowing kids to ride bikes to school.

  17. “And since when does a citizen of the Free World have to fill out PAPERWORK to get on his bike and ride to school?”

    The problem is, the people in charge of this country now don’t want it to be free anymore. Government knows best!

  18. Well, I for one do NOT see a good reason for requiring the kids to walk their bikes. Why? Because it provides an excellent teaching opportunity in the form of something to take away from them when they ride recklessly.

    Unless I’m missing out on all the breaking news concerning kindergartners getting run over and seriously injured by sixth graders, it just doesn’t seem like that big of a risk to me. Of course, it would be a bleeding human tragedy if the school system was compelled to do something like arrange for bike paths (paved, gravel, or unpaved). Also it would be a shame if mom couldn’t zoom through the property at 45mph while sipping her morning latte, chatting on her phone, and fixing Timmy’s jacket.

    Sometimes I think these school administrators and lawyers would like the educational system a lot better if it just didn’t have any damned kids in it. At least, that’s the message I get from stories like this.

  19. They sort of got themselves in a pickle as far as the liability. Any sane school would have had kids riding their bikes as a matter of course, and very little grounds for liability.

    But when you make a change — when you go from NOT allowing bikes to allowing them — that change can more easily be imagined as grounds for liability in the eyes of the wrong jury.

    So I can sort of understand the perceived need for all this lawyer-repellent — but it’s their own stupid fault for having to revert to sanity from a stupid policy and then exposing themselves to the accusation that they’ve “decreased” the safety of the school.

  20. And I agree about walking their bikes. Depending on how crowded/busy the school grounds get before school, it’s to protect little kids from getting run over, more likely than an overwrought attempt to prevent kids from being hurt by the act of bike-riding.

    But the thing about permission and being accompanied by a parent and only using “approved access routes” is just about lawsuits, not anything to do with sense.

  21. Whatever on the walking the bikes on school property, registration and helmets. Any entity should be able to make rules as to what occurs on its property. If they want the bikes walked, the bikes should be walked.

    I’m appalled at the idea that the SCHOOL BOARD determines what routes are safe for children to ride to school. I thought it was my job as a parent to determine a safe way for my child to get to school. The school board should not have any control over my child’s actions outside of school property. If I want to let my child ride a unicycle to school, backwards the whole way, I’m allowed to do so without the schools interference.

    Further it appears that, not only must my child take approved routes to school, but I must ride with her. I rode my bike to school in elementary and middle school unattended.

    Are todays kids really that much more stupid than previous generations that we can’t trust them to ride a bike? Or is the argument that this generation of parents is too stupid to be able to accurately analyze their childrens bike riding skills and the safety of the route to school for themselves?

  22. I’d tell my young adult to ride as close to the school as possible and find a nice fence to lock his bike to (not on school property) until school is over and he can come back and retrieve it. Done. It really doesn’t have to be so difficult.

  23. Lenore,

    I love your line that reads:

    “And since when does a citizen of the Free World have to fill out PAPERWORK to get on his bike and ride to school?”

    Amen!

    I hope the Saratoga Springs board of education members read your post and the comments here and rethink their decision.

    Too many school officials are prisoners of the belief they are entitled to over-reach. This mindset is similar to that of the Mental Health Community opening it’s umbrella wider and wider to encompass more of everyday life as a mental disorder, a disorder “you must be treated for.” They believe THEY have The
    Right, too.

    Can you imagine if every club, every institution, business, (every destination), was permitted to impose these kinds of “regulations” on anyone traveling to their locations?

    Unfortunately, Saratoga Springs school officials seem to think that since their “intentions are good” over-reaching is okay.

    Lenore, you said it so well: ” What kind of “safety” is it providing, if the kids are going to grow up without using their muscles, without having adventures, without learning a sense of direction and self-reliance?”

    Those of us who grew up navigating the dangers of the streets to get to-and-from school all our lives took
    for granted our ability to do so without realizing it was a big deal. It wasn’t.

    Let’s give those responsible for endorsing these overbearing regulations some extra visibility:

    Saratoga Springs Board of Education
    ———————————————-

    Janice M. White – Superintendent of Schools

    Mrs. Mia Pfitzer, President

    Mr. Jay C. Rifenbary, Vice President

    Mr. Aaron AuBuchon

    Mr. Ernest J. Gailor

    Mrs. Regina M. Gapczynski

    Mr. Steve Grandin

    Mr. Francis G. Palumbo

    Mr. Charles E. Phillips

    Mr. Jeffrey W. Piro

    Superintendent, Janice White, isn’t it time for you to read Free Range Kids? Isn’t it time to make it required
    reading for your entire board of education? (since you like to impose regulations)

  24. I’ve become convinced that this liability issue–this idea that institutions have to make up crazy rules to avoid a lawsuit–is simply another baseless irrational fear. In a nation of 300 million people, one kook sues a school (perhaps unsuccessfully) and the next thing you know your school’s lawyer, who has no incentive to provide reasonable advice, is telling your school admins that they need more rules. And the worst part is that these rules are pointless against some other nut who sues them regardless!

    I’d like to see some real world statistics regarding the likelihood of a successful and expensive lawsuit with respect to kids riding their bikes to school or any of the other fears that school districts use as excuses for excessive policies.

  25. I keep hearing people talk about how this is a “litigious society” or that “people are scared of liability”.

    Isn’t this a lot like saying that it’s “more dangerous than when we were kids”? I don’t hear nearly as many new and verifiable frivolous lawsuits (much less those that are decided in favor of the plaintiff) as I hear the same three or four old stories – some of which are urban legends or deeply misunderstood – trotted out again and again with the line “well, we all have to be scared of being sued”.

    And most of those stories were current when I was a kid!

  26. Uly — Good point. Unfortunately, like the perception of a more dangerous world drives parents to overprotect, the perception of a more litigious one drives businesses to over-regulate.

  27. While the requirements about what occurs on schools grounds could be, and probably are, a liability issues. The rest is just Big Brother telling you what to do. There is absolutely no way that you can successfully sue a school if your child is injured enroute to that school on a bike. It would be like suing a school district because you got into a car wreck on the way to school. Unless you are on a school bus, the school is not required to get you to school safely.

    However, I do wonder if this school has now opened itself up to law suits. They have declared certain routes safe biking zones. If one of those “safe” accesses should prove unsafe, I think the school can now be sued.

  28. @ Damaged Justice: In a free society, there is no such thing as the king’s shilling … it all comes from the people.

  29. Try not paying and see how free you are.

  30. I stand by my position. If you don’t like the rules set by the government schools, don’t put your child in one. It’s a bad idea anyway, since they universally provide not only a substandard education, but unequivocally brainwash children to place the State above all else.

    “Come out of her, my people, that you do not partake of her sins, and receive of her plagues.”

  31. well, that should be for their safety. i agree with that.

  32. Or, back in the real world where some people simply don’t have the resources to homeschool or private school their kids, you could just try exercising your right to get the schools to make better rules.

  33. Thanks, Uly- took the words right out of my mouth.

  34. Someone mentioned that these parents chose for their kids to go to school there therefore must abide by the rules set forth by said school…Ummm…No, they didn’t. There are truency laws that require children of a certain age to attend school. The school districts decide which school your child will attend based on your location. If the bus route does not come by their home because they live too close to the school then the students must find their own way, but they are still required by law to attend. However, putting an undue burden on parents to get the kids there seems to be undermining the whole concept of a free education, provided by all in so we may have a democracy made up of an informed populus. (at least that was the original idea….Thomas Jefferson…father of education…yadda yadda yadda…)
    If this where a private school, I would understand obeying the riduculousness set forth, but private schools more directly operate with the parents’ money so they aren’t about to upset the pocketbook with this lunacy.

  35. This year my kids started violin. The lessons start at 4:00 but my job ends at 4:15 and the Arts Centre is only two blocks from school. Silly me, I thought it would be no problem sending my son once a week on his own to his lesson. However, the first time we tried, I got a call from the School Division saying that he was not allowed to walk alone, even with my permission. They held him at the school until I could pick him up. I have to fudge with the school just so he can walk two blocks. I hate to see what battles I will have in Spring when he is finally old enough to ride his bike alone, esspecially since his brother in kindergarten will want to follow him and bike the four blocks the school division makes them ride a bus for.

  36. @ Ginkgo and WendyW:

    I disagree that the helmets are a reasonable requirement.
    Sorry, but this is something I decided to study years ago. Here are the facts:

    1) Riding a bike is not as likely to cause serious head injuries than walking (at least, anywhere near traffic) or jogging. It’s roughly equal to riding in a car. The “danger danger!” is hype. (Example: only 1% of head injury fatalities are on bikes. Helmets for the other 99%, people?)

    2) The huge increase in bike helmet use since 1990 hasn’t reduced the (already small) serious head injury rate at all. In fact, the rate increased! Ask your librarian to get you the New York Times article from summer 2001, “A bicycling mystery.”

    3) Pushing helmet wearing – and the “danger danger!” cries that go with it – keeps kids (and adults) from riding. It’s worst when they make helmets mandatory. Australia’s got the best data, with drops of over 30% immediately after passing such laws.

    4) You hear lots of “My helmet saved my life!” stories. But if you could sell styrofoam knee pads, you’d hear just as many “My knee pad saved me from amputation!” stories. Look at the long-term population data to see what really happens.

    Bike helmets are a scam. They’ve never been needed, and they don’t work against truly serious injuries. They’re another consumer product sold through lies and fear.

    More info? Google “vehicularcyclist” (all one word) and look at its Helmet FAQs. Or google “cyclehelmets” (all one word) for tons of skeptical science.

  37. To some extent the ‘we need these rules to reduce liability’ is a smokescreen.

    Too many in the educational establishment seem to be control freaks, and waving the liability flag is simply another tool to justify extension of their mesh of byzantine rules.

    Add to this the fact that few in education seem willing to exercise adult judgment, preferring to hide behind rigid rules to avoid having to justify decisions, and you wind up exactly where we are.

    This wouldn’t be justifiable, even if the public schools delivered a good education….something which as been missing in the past forty and fifty years.

  38. Example: only 1% of head injury fatalities are on bikes. Helmets for the other 99%, people?

    Poor statistics. If people are, say, 1000 times more likely to drive in a car for 20 minutes than to ride a bike for that long, I would expect to see more head injuries from being in a car than from being on a bike. Since we don’t live in a very bike-friendly culture (at least, I don’t), it’s not surprising that comparatively few head injuries come from biking. That number tells us absolutely nothing – you might as well have thrown in the statistics for head injuries through skydiving or blinking while you were at it.

  39. The stupidity of society is brain-numbing. No wonder American kids are getting fatter and more unhealthy every year. These rules make it far easier to just load the kid in the minivan, even though it’s probably more dangerous and definitely less healthy.

  40. Bicycle helmets are in fact, quite effective at protecting from head injuries in case of bicycle-on-bicycle and bicycle-on-stationary-object and even bicycle-on-pedestrian collisions. However, they’re NOT designed for automobile-on-bicycle collisions, which are by far the most common type of injury-causing collisions involving bicycles.

    It turns out that the more people on bicycles you have, the safer it is for cyclists, because it reduces the chances of them getting hit by cars.

  41. Heck. Ride to school and lock it up to a signpost.

    I still don’t get how a school can tell children and parents what to do outside of school hours.

  42. “I stand by my position. If you don’t like the rules set by the government schools, don’t put your child in one”

    OR try to change them, since you’re paying for those schools with your taxes, and since you should have a voice as a parent and a citizen. What sort of theory is this – if you don’t like it, don’t complain? If you don’t like the government strip searching you on public trains, don’t ride public trains! If you don’t like the government putting cameras on the streets to tape your every move, don’t walk on public streets! If you don’t like the government keeping track of your library books, don’t go to public libraries! This is the kind of reasoning that has made these far reaching regulations and powers possible in the first place.

  43. Sky,
    I’m a 100% with you. I wish the general public (not just parents) would invest in our school by joining our site based committee to make decisions. They can make decisions and see how various state and federal laws effect what goes on in the classroom. Then they can make a truly informed decision when voting and writing their elective representatives.

    Come and visit. Instead of yelling at me in the grocery store because you hear me say Oh I took my Wii to school to use with the kids. Come in my classroom and watch 22 kids enthusastically do 3 digit x 2 digit multipication using numbers generated by playing a batting practice game on the Wii. They will do 3 times as many problems this way than if I gave them a worksheet – and they are more accurate.

    They check each others work and help each other. Most importantly when a review question comes up in a lesson 3 topics latter – THEY REMEMBER how to do it.

  44. So a kid can ride his bike to school BUT the parent must walk the bike to the bike stand with their child, from the school gate, and both must be wearing helmets? Additionally they must walk the bike along approved paths only. Who must wear the ID tag, the student, the parent or the bike? (its unclear)

    This is worse than not being able to ride a bike to school

  45. “Why would a school want its kids to never get off their duffs?”

    Perhaps instead of raising sheeple the State is raising veal.

  46. I’m curious about one aspect of the rule.

    They want to have a safe place for children. They want to avoid issues with ‘stranger danger’, etc.

    OK – I understand that.

    But their solution is to insist a lot of adults with no background checks come onto school property at a time when lots of students are milling around ?

    How is that a good thing – from their point-of-view ?

    Mac

  47. […] school district agrees to overregulate, rather than ban, students’ bikes [Free-Range Kids, […]

  48. Hi lenore, do you know the blog of David Hembrow? He’s Brit who moved to Holland some years ago for the quality of the utility cycling.

    He know more than anyone about Dutch Bike policy for kids, the fact that they all cycle to school (without helmets) and that according to Unicef, Dutch kids are the happiest in the world.

    His blog, A view from the cycle path, is voluminous, and so you are going have to search the archives for the relevant stories, but they are there!

    Youc an fin the link to his blog on mine which is about similar things. http://situp-cycle.com .

    You can also see an interview with David on my blog called. Talking to David Hembrow.

    There is no better source of info on kids riding to school in Europe, not just Holland, than David.

    Cheers, Mike

  49. I don’t understand why people need to wear helmets while walking their bikes? The rules you posted are pretty clear that the bikes must be walked on school property, which is reasonable ( no pedestrian dodging ), and if that’s the case, there’s no sane reason to require people to wear helmets in order to walk.

    Maybe instead of cycling, the kids should sit on the couch eating french fries and iced cream, while playing video games. If exercise is too dangerous, well, I don’t think heart disease and diabetes are any better…

  50. […] some tips as a first time parents (my favorite “all surfaces are NOT poisonous, though “no helmets on the swing” is also a nice one) or wanna know what pet to buy for your kid (guess whose cleaning the cat […]

  51. @Kym – actually there is no evidence to support your assertion about the effectiveness of bicycle helmets. As I have a child and everyone keeps claiming helmets increase safety I decided to become informed on the topic. The lie of safety is quite shocking. All based on badly done studies and studies done on types of helmets that are no longer made (modern helmets are much weaker than those of 10-15 years ago).

    Also people make the incorrect assumption that falling off your bicycle while going 5mph means you hit the ground at that speed, but you can easily hit the ground at a much higher speed. And at an odd angle to boot. Those two things will not only render the helmet completely useless, but the latter means an increased risk of serious injuries like damage to the neck and damage due to rotation of the brain.

    @Forrest – well if we were to use injury statistics pedestrians and drivers should be wearing helmets, not cyclists. In both cases they could wear proper motorcycle helmets that are actually designed for protection, unlike bicycle helmets where comfort, appearance and shape are considered most important.

    I’ve noticed in my area that a lot of the kids cycle to school with their helmets, which are mandated by the schools, tied to their bags or handlebars, then put them on just before they reach the school grounds. I love it. It warms my heart every time I see them ignoring these silly helmet requirements.

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