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New federal law is a win for 'free-range' parenting

The new Every Student Succeeds Act contains what amounts to the first "free-range" kid provision, allowing parents to send their kids to school on foot or bike without fear of being accused of endangerment.
The new Every Student Succeeds Act contains what amounts to the first "free-range" kid provision, allowing parents to send their kids to school on foot or bike without fear of being accused of endangerment.
Razvan Radu-RazvanPhotography

The just-signed "Every Student Succeeds Act" features on page 857 the first "free-range" kid provision, according to Lenore Skenazy, who launched the free-range movement and who wrote about the new law on both a Reason.com blog and in an opinion piece for the New York Post.

According to the new federal law, "...nothing in this Act shall...prohibit a child from traveling to and from school on foot or by car, bus, or bike when the parents of the child have given permission; or expose parents to civil or criminal charges for allowing their child to responsibly and safely travel to and from school by a means the parents believe is age appropriate."

The free-range amendment was proposed by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. It also notes, though, that it won't "preempt state or local laws." So there's room, as Skenazy notes, to still penalize parents if local officials deem a child's walk or ride to school dangerous.

Skenazy first came to public attention when she was dubbed "World's Worst Mom" after allowing her son, then 9, to practice and then finally solo ride the New York City subway system. She told the Deseret News about the incident and its aftermath last spring as other high-profile cases of alleged parental neglect were making headlines.

In August, the Family Defense Center, a Chicago nonprofit legal advocacy organization, claimed that the sheer number of such child welfare investigations puts "families at risk and take resources away from real instances of neglect."

The center's report, "When Can Parents Let Children Be Alone?" focused on Illinois cases, "but referenced instances nationally where parents have been investigated and sometimes sanctioned for actions intended to help their kids become independent and build skills," the Deseret News reported.

A law professor at the University of Idaho, David Pimentel, told Skenazy for the New York Post piece that the high-profile cases that get media coverage are not the only instances of parents investigated and sometimes charged with endangering children because they allowed the youngsters to walk home from a park or play alone or some variation. “While there are no good statistics on how often parents are getting caught up in the legal system for what are essentially free-range parenting practices … they are definitely on the increase in recent years,” he said.

One of the most high-profile cases recently involved Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, a Maryland couple who allowed their children to practice and then walk home from a neighborhood park twice. They were cleared on appeal in the first case, after a child protection investigation said what they had done was, in fact, unsubstantiated child neglect. According to the Washington Post, that meant a file would be kept on them, so they appealed the decision and won.

In June, Today wrote that "Maryland Child Protective Services dropped the neglect charge against them through a letter they received just before they took off on vacation last week."

Email: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco