Justice! 3rd Grader with Cool Knife No Longer a Criminal

Hi Readers — Here’s lovely news! Remember that third grader who was showing off his pocket knife after school and ended up EXPELLED? We ran the story on Feb. 17, asking for help and media coverage.

Got both — and JUSTICE! It started here, so thank you, readers (and 141 commenters)!! Let’s hear it for creating sanity in the world! Here’s a note from the mom who sent in the original story. — L.

Thank you thank you thank you for your incredible outpouring of support and encouragement!  
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It worked! Multiple blogs, facebook posts, online and news editorials, newsgroups threads, community group emails, a petition that garnered nearly100 supporters in just one day, two new websites urging balance to Zero Tolerance, and a middle school petition at SMS… way to mobilize!!
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The boy’s record has been cleared and his expulsion repealed.  He has been invited back to school and our superintendent will be calling the local police department to urge them to drop the charges.  However, the damage has been done and he’s terrified of Cumberland, so he will remain where he’s at for the time being.
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I think what is in order now is a very heartfelt apology from the administration, the district, and the police, and a complete overhaul of our state and district policy regarding Zero Tolerance, so this does not happen again. Many many thanks! — Julie Colwell
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In a follow-up note, I asked Julie how the story spread and got action. We can all learn some social media/social action lessons from what she wrote back:
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This was a success of social media, actually.  None of the large outlets picked it because the boy’s parents weren’t willing to talk until the criminal charges were dropped.  I didn’t want it to become old news, so I posted your blog and the letter to the editor in the Sunnyvale Sun (which is our tiny local paper — but everybody reads it) on my kids’ school newsgroups and Facebook pages.  And I started a petition on change.org which sends an automatic email to our state reps, state superintendent, district superintendent, principal and several other education officials every time someone signs it.  How annoying is that?
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From there, it spread to more local newsgroups and blogs and other social media.  Someone started a Facebook page on Zero Tolerance for Zero Tolerance.  I must have gotten over a hundred emails in support.
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But Free-Range Kids was first.  Many many thanks!  And also thanks to whomever on Free-Range Kids suggested the petition on change.com.  I’m going to keep pursuing that.  Hopefully we can make this sanity permanent!

Outrage of the Week: Don’t You DARE Throw This Woman in Jail!

Readers — I am SO SICK of our finger-pointing culture ever-ready to criminalize a normal, if tragic, parenting moment. In this case, a woman named Felicia Tucker is being charged in the drowning death of her toddler nephew Joshua because he got out of house and she didn’t realize it quickly enough. He drowned in a nearby lake. According to an article in The Courier Post Online:

Tormenting Tucker on Friday was whether Joshua had suddenly learned to open the front door or whether it had not been latched. Tucker said she and her sister had taken “every precaution” in recent weeks — such as emptying out a backyard pool and ensuring the doors to the home were latched — after a co-worker’s toddler son drowned in a Monroe pool in June.

Note to police, prosecutors, judges: This is hardly a woman who is negligent! What happened is HUMAN, NOT CRIMINAL! Quit pretending it isn’t, just to feel smug or safe or superior. You could be a wonderful, even saintly parent, and it could happen to you. How would sending this woman — a mom herself — to ten years in prison make anyone safer or rectify anything?

That’s easy — it won’t. It’ll just teach us all a lesson: Unless we are absolutely perfect, we have absolutely no business parenting. (Or even being allowed to set foot in the community.) — L.

LESS OF AN OUTRAGE! “Vehicular Manslaughter” Mom Gets Probation

Hi Folks — Here’s good news. The Atlanta mom who was convicted of “vehicular manslaughter” after her 4-year-old wriggled away from her and was killed by a drunk driver, does not have to do jail time. While she could have been sent away for three years, she will instead do a year of probation and perform 40 hours of community service. She also has been offered the option of another trial.

The driver, meantime, already did six months in jail and was released in October. He will serve  the remained of his five-year sentence on probation, reports the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Here’s my original post on the topic. The case ended up getting a lot of attention — including on The Today Show — and over 100,000 folks signed a petition asking the powers that be to throw out the mom’s conviction and install a crosswalk instead. Whether or not the judge, Katherine Tanksley, was moved by the furor, she showed compassion and common sense.

That’s what we want from all our judges. Now let’s hope Atlanta builds that crosswalk.  – Lenore

“Is My Son a Sex-Offender?”

Hi Readers — Last week I was on a radio show where the host wondered how I could endorse the idea of kids playing outside, now that we KNOW we are surrounded by “sexual predators.” I replied that Sex Offender Registry is confusing because some people on it really do (or at least did) prey on children, but many of them don’t or won’t, and we can’t always tell which is which.  I didn’t get a chance to say this, but  a study by the Georgia Sex Offender Registration Review Board — Georgia! Not a state wussy on crime — concluded that five percent of the people on its registry were “clearly dangerous.” It also determined that just over 100 of the 17,000 (1 in 170) were actual “predators” — people who feel compelled to commit sex crimes. (Read this Economist article for more info.) Here the story of one of the other 169:
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Dear Free-Range Kids: I know in some ways this isn’t exactly Free-Range, but last Saturday night my 17-year-old son was interrupted by a Sheriff’s deputy while “parking” with a 15-year-old girl.  I hadn’t heard about her, but apparently they’d been bf/gf for a few weeks.
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After I read about the cases of similar situations that resulted in the teenage boy ending up on the Sex Offender Registry, I immediately looked up the age of consent in my state, Oklahoma, which is 16.  Then I sat down with my son and explained the possible consequences of having sex with an under-age girl.  But I guess it didn’t carry much weight coming from mom.
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Now, I think the deputy handled the situation perfectly (even in a somewhat old school way):  he made both kids call their parents and tell them what they had been doing.   The deputy also gave them a good, strong lecture that with a present-day twist: he included the possibility of sex offender registration.  My son drove, so when the situation was over he was sent home in his vehicle, but the girl’s mother had to come pick her up.
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I have to admit that I was initially amused by it, once my son established that the phone call was pretty much the extent of the deputy’s actions.  He had been doing what teenagers do, and getting interrupted by the officer seemed almost like a scene from a ’60s movie.  I have done my best to prepare him for a safe and healthy sexuality, not only has he had comprehensive sex-ed from myself and our church (Unitarian, so it’s a different approach than many churches) about disease and pregnancy prevention, but I have also talked with him about maturity and emotional consequences for both himself and his partner.  I know from personal experience that teens are going to do what they’re going to do, so my approach has always been about sex being a healthy experience, physically and psychologically.  We’ve had open dialog since he was about 5 or 6 when he asked me, “What is sex?”  My response:  “Sex is a special kind of hugging and kissing that grown-ups do when they really love each other a whole lot.”
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My first question when he got home was “Were you using/about to use/have ready to use a condom?”  He couldn’t have said “YES!!!” faster or more emphatically.  My second question was, “How old is she?” He said, “Two years younger than me,” which didn’t take a lot of math to figure out that there was potential for real trouble involved.  When I started to remind him of our prior talk, he told me about the deputy’s warning and it was obvious just how hard it hit my son then.  (He event commented that he was going to check ID in the future to make sure a girl was at least 16.)  But I still wasn’t concerned because there was every indication that the event was over and done.
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Unfortunately, that may not be the case.
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The young lady told my son that her mother wants to talk to me.  I understand that she’s upset and I said she was welcome to do so and my son sent the girl my number last night, so she could call me.  Her mother is mad — extremely so — and wants my son to be punished.  Harshly.  Possibly legally.  When he told me that, I started to get nervous and at that point sat down with my son and asked him exactly what happended that night — how far did they go?
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Thankfully, due to our existing relationship on the subject, he was able to tell me honestly and clearly.  They were interrupted before they made it to intercourse, but had progressed to oral sex.
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My son also told me that the girl and her mother have a somewhat contentious relationship and that the mother sometimes calls her daughter “slut” and “whore.”  I believe that the mom is really lashing out at my son out of anger, rather than honestly thinking he did something to hurt her daugher.
Now I’m concerned we should contact an attorney just to cover his butt for whatever may come from this.
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Am I overreacting?  We barely get by as it is and have no money for legal fees.  And if I do need to consult an attorney, what kind?  Criminal/defense?  How do I find a good one, especially with my financial situation?  I’m scared for my son who was just being a normal teenager. What should I do? — Scared Mom
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Dear Scared Mom: I’m scared, too, but I have no legal background. I don’t know if it makes sense to get an attorney just in case things escalate, or possibly wait for them to die down. Thus, I am asking the readers for their advice, and I am wishing you and your son every bit of good luck and fairness. — L.

Possible sex offenders?