“Only Bad Parents Make Their Kids WALK to School”

Hi Folks! I read this over at RixaRixa and asked if the blogger was game to let me reprint the whole thing. Yes! So here it is, in all its infuriating bureaucrat-brained fullness!

We’ve been walking Zari to and from kindergarten. It seemed the most logical of our three options (walk, ride the bus, or drive) since we only live 1 km away. If Zari rode the bus, she’d have to leave the house almost an hour earlier, and she’d get home 1 to 1 1/2 hours later. That adds up to over 2 hours on the bus per day. Driving was out of the question; why drive when our legs are perfectly capable of getting us there?
So far we’ve enjoyed our twice daily walks. Eric and I switch off walking duty depending on who is teaching that day. We get time with Zari and we get extra exercise. Sounds like the perfect scenario, right?

Yes, except that we have to cross a Death Trap road on the way. It’s a state highway that runs through town, and there are no stop signs or stoplights in probably a mile either direction. There’s a flashing light that goes on during school hours. This means that cars are supposed to slow down to 25 mph, but no one does. Every time we cross the street, it’s like we’re inside a giant game of Frogger (this totally dates me!).

I first contacted the¬†school transportation department¬†to inquire about crossing guards. After all, the road where we’re crossing is the main entrance into the elementary school¬†and¬†to the county fairgrounds. The reply? They used to supply a crossing guard at that intersection, but not any more. They told me to talk to the police department.

So I met with the¬†chief of police¬†and explained my concerns–that the school no longer provided a crossing guard and that I was having real troubles getting us safely across the street, especially during the morning rush. He sympathized with my situation and said he’d send some patrol cars out in the morning, but otherwise he coudln’t do much else. He suggested talking to someone in the state transportation department, since traffic signs on that road are regulated by the state, not by the city.

This morning I spoke to a woman at the¬†state transportation department. I explained our difficulties crossing the road and asked if they would consider doing a traffic survey to put in either stop signs or a stop light. I told her I’d already met with the school transportation coordinator and the police chief, and they both told me they couldn’t do much else to help me. Her response:

“You really should have your daughter ride the bus.”

I explained that this option made no sense in our situation. We live close to the school, and riding the bus would take an extra 2+ hours out of my daughter’s day. Her reply:

“Well, you’re the one who’s choosing to put your daughter in danger. You’re choosing your convenience over her safety. She has a safe option, and that’s to ride the bus.”¬†

Excuse me?! When did walking your child to school mean that you’re a bad, selfish parent? I abandoned any niceties and dropped my polite tone. I said that it was not just a choice between convenience and safety. After all, we’re facing major obesity and pollution crises in this country. I feel very strongly that it’s an¬†irresponsible¬†choice to put my child on a bus for 2 hours a day, or to drive her to school (as many parents at this school do), when we’re perfectly capable of walking. The solution isn’t just to put my daughter on a bus; it’s to help us find a way to safely cross the street.

Her reply:

“In my town, I have several friends who live across the street from an elementary school, and they all have their children ride the bus because it’s safer than crossing the street.”

The then told me that she likely couldn’t do anything to help me, and to talk to the school and the police again.

Can anyone else see what’s wrong with this picture? Is there anything else I can do? (I do have something really subversive up my sleeve…more on that later!)

Lenore here: I like the sound of ‘something subversive.’ Please keep us looped in! – L

First “Kid-Dropped-Off-At-Wrong-Bus-Stop” Story of the School Year

Hey Readers! Here’s a lovely little bite of sanity, deceny and normal-ness (before I bring you today’s run-in-with-the-cops story that’s driving me to despair). Over at Lisa Belkin’s blog on The Huffington Post, she reports that a 5-year-old with autism was let off at the wrong stop, thanks to a little mix-up.

Rather than this making front page news — remember this story? “Parents Worst Nightmare!” — it was resolved the usual way: With kindness and concern. Two teens found the boy, brought him to an adult who got in touch with ¬†his mom, who came and got him. As Belkin asks:

So what is the lesson we take from this first-day-of-school tale (in addition to the obvious changes needed in the school’s bus procedure)?

Is it that the world is not a safe place for children?

Or that a little boy who needed help got it?

“I called her and told her,¬†‘I have your son. He’s safe. He’s at my house and I’ll keep him safe until you arrive,'” his rescuer says she told his mom.

Isn’t that the lesson — that the world is basically safe, and that people are generally good — the one that we most need to learn?

It sure is! Right on, Lisa! — L.

Getting off at the wrong spot is not the same as getting off at Armageddon.

6 Dumbest Things Schools Do to “Protect Kids”

Hi Readers — This “Dumbest Things” piece by the folks at Cracked is so perfect, click and enjoy. And remember, back when Cracked used to be the runner-up to Mad, I wrote scads of articles for it. (Just not recently, when it became brilliant social commentary.)

Favorite Dumbest Thing schools are doing to “protect” kids? Well, it’s a toss up between the school banning ALL photography (lest it lead to and/or become child porn), and the individual radio frequency i.d. tags that a school purchased to track kids…except that if a kid IS somehow abducted from the school grounds, the signal stops beeping 100 feet away.

Fight the madness, and enjoy the captions. They’re the best. — L.

The Highlander Takes the Low Road

Hi Readers! I know these Toyota ads have been running for a while, but I still cannot believe that some ad agency thinks the best way to sell parents on a car is to tell them their kids despise everything they believe in and enjoy — possibly including THEM. And that the best way to show our love for our children is to chauffeur them in a TV-equipped bubble, where they can drown out anything that does not amuse them. And, of course, that driving (individual!!) kids to school is the natural order of things.

This is what I mean when I talk about the many ways pop culture molds us as parents. If we turn on the TV and it really looks like EVERYONE is driving their kids to school, that becomes the norm and, in turn, everyone starts driving their kids to school.

I know this is a car commercial, so it’s not going to say: For God’s sake, why don’t those able-bodied boys WALK to school? Or ride their BIKES? If they’re such good friends, obviously going the same direction, wouldn’t it make sense for them to amble off to school TOGETHER and talk on the WAY, instead of communicating through CAR WINDOWS? (Or if they live really far, even — hey — carpool?) When we don’t see any of those questions on TV, the only question becomes WHAT we drive, rather than WHY.

Yes, all of that is what this ad (infuriatingly cute nonetheless) got rumbling inside of me.

Meantime, the ad BELOW just reinforces the idea that cool kids get driven to and from school, losers take the bus. (Cool, RICH kids apparently also get the blonde chicks.)

I guess it’s a little much to expect a car company to embrace public transit, but still — let US at least remember that more kids are killed in car crashes than on school buses. So if you’re a parent who REALLY cares…which would you choose?

A Second Grade Boy Gets a Key to His House

Hi Readers! Here’s a letter that’ll make you smile! — L

Dear Free-Range Kids: Today, thanks in part to you, I am going to have a copy of my house key made for my son.

My son is in second grade. He and his sister go to different schools and I thought it would be easy to do the carpool circuit, but logistics have made it a royal pain for him to sit in the car for an hour every afternoon, so he asked if he could start riding the bus.  Wonderful idea, right?

Friday morning¬†I send him to school with a note that he’s to ride the bus home.¬†Friday afternoon¬†I go out to my front porch (I can SEE the bus stop from my front door) to check that he’s on the bus and lo and behold, the bus stops and the door opens but he doesn’t get off.¬† Knowing the bus will pass back by, I go out to the bus stop (50 yards from my house) and wait.¬† The next time around the bus driver stops and apologetically hands me a form which outlines the following school board policy:

“Students 8 years old and younger may be brought back to their school in the afternoon if a parent, guardian or parent/guardian designee is not present at the bus stop to receive them, or if they otherwise appear to have no appropriate supervision. This is in accordance with Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) Guidelines for safety and supervision of children.”

I  knew this policy applied to kindergarten and 1st graders, but I was stunned to realize that it actually goes to age 8.  Fortunately, if I want to allow my son to get off a school bus without me (at my own risk, of course), I simply have to check the appropriate box and sign the form.

I actually faltered before signing it.¬† The little “What If…” devil sat on my shoulder and whispered scary nothings into my ear. Sadly there’s still a little part of me that knows exactly why that policy is there and agrees with it to a point.¬† If I couldn’t see the bus stop from my house, would I still let him do it?¬† But thanks to Free-Range Kids and all the other inspiring information I’ve read here, I dismissed “What If…?” with a roll of my eyes and reminded myself that I’m raising a bright and perfectly competent child who will be thrilled with and rise to this level responsibility.

This year my work schedule means there may be a day during the week that I’m not home when he gets here.¬† So today I’m going to present him with his very own key to the house.¬† I’m going to let him unlock the door and come on in by himself every day.¬† If I’m not here, he knows to get himself a snack and get started on his homework.¬† He has my phone number and knows to lock the door behind him.¬† I think we’re all going to love it.

Thank you for continuing to ratify my intuition and helping to dispel the ubiquitous litany of disaster. – Amanda from Georgia

 

Come on up, kid!

 

A Question About the School Bus

Hi Readers! This morning I was telling my husband that I’ve been hearing about¬†¬†parents who are ¬†afraid to put their kids on the school bus lately, and he asked, “Why is that?” and I was stumped. I actually DON’T know why this new fear has cropped up, and I’m not even sure it’s widespread.

What I’d like to know, then, is if you have heard of parents fearing the school bus and what it is they’re worried about. Bullies? Traffic accidents? I’ve always heard school buses were a very safe way to travel.

So that’s my question for the weekend. And even if you don’t have any answers (I realize not everyone is thinking deep school bus thoughts all the time), have a great weekend anyway! — Lenore

TV on SCHOOL BUSES? Why Not Just Set Up A Deep-Fryer & Throw Kids’ Brains In?

Hi Readers — Here’s a post from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood about School Bus TV. The idea of kids being force-fed even MORE screen time just nauseates me. Fortunately, Josh Golin, associate director of the Campaign, articulates the arguments against bus TV far better than my fake retching sounds. He also references his group’s successful 4-year fight against BusRadio, an equally appalling idea to pipe in radio — and ads — ¬†to moppets riding the bus to school. — ¬†L.

THE NEXT BUS RADIO? BY JOSH GOLIN

Haven’t we been down this road before? A few years ago, it was BusRadio promising to make school buses safer and calmer with its student-targeted radio broadcasts. Now it’s television that marketers claim will soothe the beast. From theDallas Morning News:

Television can be a ready baby sitter in the living room, but will it work on school buses?

The Garland school district is experimenting with playing educational videos on a school bus to help cut discipline problems.

For $1,500 per bus, Carrollton-based AdComp Systems installs a 26-inch flat screen TV at the front of the bus. The screen plays videos supplied by NASA, the Discovery network, History Channel and others.

The similarities between BusRadio ‚Äď which closed its doors last September after a four-year campaign by CCFC and Obligation, Inc. ‚Äď and Bus-Ed-Safe-TV (BEST) are striking. Like BusRadio, BEST is claiming it will improve student behavior and touting its plan to air safety messages and PSAs in its pitch to school districts, while downplaying its commercial content. The¬†Dallas Morning News is even reporting that BEST will have no commercials.

Even if that were true, it’s still a terrible idea. At some point we’re going to need to stand up to the flat-screen invasion and the ubiquitous blaring TVs that compete for our attention and with our conversations at seemingly every turn. Since children 8-18 already spend 7.5 hours a day with media and excessive screen time is linked to poor school performance, keeping televisions off of school buses might be a good place to start.

And just as with BusRadio ‚Äď which once boasted on its website for advertisers that it would ‚Äútake targeted student marketing to the next level‚ÄĚ ‚Äď it‚Äôs clear the underlying purpose of BEST¬†is¬†to deliver a captive audience of students to advertisers. The BEST website includes a section of ‚Äúideal partnerships‚ÄĚ which include ‚Äútargeted content partners‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúcommercial sponsorships.‚ÄĚ

As for the claim there will be no commercials, the website says only that BEST won‚Äôt run ‚ÄúDirect commercial ads that parents can object to and are not good for kids‚ÄĚ or air violence or sexually explicit material. That‚Äôs not setting the bar very high.

As we learned with BusRadio, it‚Äôs not just the content that parents object to ‚Äď it‚Äôs the very business model of forcing children to consume media and marketing on a school bus. Before the BEST team proceeds any further, they should do their homework. They could start with the more than 1,000 comments that parents submitted to the FCC in opposition to BusRadio, or by reading how parents in Louisville, Montgomery County, and cities and towns around the country organized to keep the company out of their school districts. Because if BEST, like its failed predecessor, underestimates parents‚Äô determination to keep their school buses commercial-free, it‚Äôs sure to be¬†the next BusRadio. — J.G.

Good News! Lost 5-Year-Old Helped by Strangers

Every parents’ fear — that their child will get lost, far from home, and come to harm — was turned on its head yesterday. I have a feeling it’s turned on tis head every day, actually, but how nice to read this story about strangers. It shouldn’t even be news:¬†most¬†humans care about children and want to help. But as long as we’re talking about kids, school buses and getting lost, it’s nice that a story like this gets some publicity. — Lenore

You Can’t Bring THAT on the School Bus!

Hi Readers — Here you go. Latest overprotection nonsense! Enjoy (if that’s the word).

Dear Free-Range Kids: I thought this little story might be of interest to you. My oldest daughter (12) recently tried out for her school softball team. She made the team, which was a real accomplishment. Not only were the kids selected based on talent, but on attitude and enthusiasm as well. They’re all good students, responsible, and respectable. It takes that type of kid to make it on the team.

Although the softball season does not start until April, open practice has. The first day of practice, my daughter hauled her gear onto the bus (we live in a rural area 5 miles from school, so walking really does not work well). She has lots of equipment, because she is a catcher. However, it all fits into one bag that she places in front of her on the bus. It does not cause a space problem. A day later, we were informed at a parent/player meeting that softball bats are NOT allowed on the school bus, because they MIGHT be used as weapons. Even zipped up in an equipment bag: not allowed. So now, on days that she has practice, I have to make a special trip after school to drop her equipment off.

After doing a little research, I found that this appears to be a common policy at many schools. Riding the bus is a privilege, so I try not to let it upset me too much, but I still can’t help but question how crazy this rule it. Selected to play on the school team, but not allowed to transport her equipment on the school bus?

Welcome to America, 2009! Can’t keep kids too safe! Better to make them believe that anytime anyone is carrying anything that is not a cottonball, they are a menace to society. That goes for girls with bats and boys with Cub Scout eating utensils.¬† And double for pen knives! — L