Cory Doctorow on “New Law Says Kids Can Walk to School by Themselves”

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Can’t tell you how fantastic it is to have Cory Doctorow — Boing Boing co-editor, author of “Little Brother,” and general genius all around — recognize the new Free-Range Kids’ legislation and the role of this blog in bringing attention to the problem it tries to address. That is: parents getting harassed/investigated/arrested for allowing their kids some unsupervised time outside. Doctorow writes:

After years of documenting instances in which parents and kids are terrorized by law enforcement and child welfare authorities because the kids were allowed to be on their own in public places, the Free Range Kids movement has gotten some justice: a new Federal law gives its official okey-doke to parents who let their kids get to school on their own.

Section 8542 of the Every Student Succeeds Act specifically does not limit “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” nor does it “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.”

It’s a largely symbolic victory, alas, as this does not preclude state and local dunderheads from passing laws that put parents in jeopardy for allowing their kids to be in public unaccompanied.

Yes, my joy tripled upon reading the word “dunderheads.” And yes, the victory is largely symbolic. But that’s a fine place to start. When parents write to me after they’ve just found out they’re in trouble for letting their kids out of their sight, I now send them the legislation, because at least they have something official, on record, signed by THE PRESIDENT, saying that it should be up to THEM to decide when to loosen the reins. That’s something! And again, thanks to Sen. Mike Lee in Utah for conceiving, writing, and sponsoring the amendment!

More in the coming days about how to build on this victory! – L

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Cory Doctorow!

Cory Doctorow!

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28 Responses to Cory Doctorow on “New Law Says Kids Can Walk to School by Themselves”

  1. James Pollock January 14, 2016 at 9:18 am #

    “It’s a largely symbolic victory, alas, as this does not preclude state and local dunderheads from passing laws that put parents in jeopardy for allowing their kids to be in public unaccompanied.”

    It doesn’t prevent federal dunderheads from doing this, either, or from interpreting other, already existing laws as having that effect.

  2. librarian January 14, 2016 at 9:41 am #

    “It doesn’t prevent federal dunderheads from doing this, either, or from interpreting other, already existing laws as having that effect.”
    Yes, but it gives us additional means for counteracting them – and it is up to us to get maximum publicity for this law, to make sure it is interpreted as much in our favor as possible, and to use it for shaming and pressuring various dunderheads, etc.,etc. Any instrument is better than no instruments at all.

  3. Edward Hafner January 14, 2016 at 9:44 am #

    Hey James, every time Lenore brings this up you shoot it down. I recall you work in the legal profession so how about you tell us – how do we turn a “symbolic victory” into a “concrete victory”. No generalizations; step-by-step, How Do We Do It!
    Otherwise, give it a rest. This IS something. Maybe not THE something we all hope for, but still SOMETHING.
    (And if I’m wrong about the legal profession stuff…in the words of Emily Lattila, “Never mind.”)

  4. James Pollock January 14, 2016 at 9:59 am #

    “Hey James, every time Lenore brings this up you shoot it down.”
    Yeah.

    “I recall you work in the legal profession”
    Never mind.

    “how about you tell us – how do we turn a ‘symbolic victory’ into a ‘concrete victory’.
    Glad you asked. There are a number of ways.

    First off, you could get Congress to pass a law that affirmatively supports the rights of parents to choose their children’s method of school transportation (with a specific list of things that override the parents’ choice and… and this is important… a declaration that Congress intends to preempt any state or local legislation on the subject. That isn’t the end… there’d be a Constitutional challenge on whether or not Congress even has the authority to do this… but that would be as complete a victory as could be had on this topic.

    Much more likely, you could get it enacted at the state level (which is where it actually belongs in the first place). The state legislature could pass a law establishing that parents choose the transportation method their children will use to get to school. (Of course, they can’t do it in one sentence… the real law would be pages and pages long, with exceptions and exceptions to the exceptions, as they detailed how the new law would interact with other, existing state laws. For example, saying that parents may choose to have their kids drive to school doesn’t override motor vehicle licensing laws. Only on and on and on.)

    Less complete victories would be an order from the local executives (state governors, county boards, etc.) not to pursue cases against parents.

    There’s lots of ways it can be done. Saying that a law that doesn’t limit parents’ authority to decide how their kids get to school, should not be read as limiting parents’ authority to decide how their kids get to school, is not one of them.

  5. Edward Hafner January 14, 2016 at 10:52 am #

    James – “There’s lots of ways it can be done.”

    After approaching the local legislators and executives and they try to blow us off with, “No one would ever put such nonsense on the record, in writing.”; what would you suggest we do next…THE very next thing?

    That amendment isn’t just the opinion of one lawmaker. It’s the opinion of all who voted “Aye” on the bill. If any politician considered it a threat to their elected office it would have been removed before the vote.

    It’s something USABLE. Do you get it now? Think outside the bill.

  6. Emily January 14, 2016 at 11:12 am #

    The part that I don’t like is “to school.” Why just school? Does that mean it’s fine and good for a school-age kid to walk to and from school independently from Monday to Friday, but illegal for that same kid to, say, walk to soccer practice alone on Saturday morning, even if the soccer field is outside the same school?

  7. James Pollock January 14, 2016 at 11:14 am #

    “After approaching the local legislators and executives and they try to blow us off with, “No one would ever put such nonsense on the record, in writing.”; what would you suggest we do next…THE very next thing?”

    New legislators and executives. Oh, and it also helps to outnumber people who feel the opposite of what you do.

    “That amendment isn’t just the opinion of one lawmaker. It’s the opinion of all who voted “Aye” on the bill.”
    Do you not understand how legislation actually gets through Congress? If more than 10% of the legislators even READ the amendment, much less agreed with it, I’d be amazed.

    ” If any politician considered it a threat to their elected office it would have been removed before the vote.”
    And amendments that don’t actually do anything are not going to be considered a threat to anyone.

  8. James Pollock January 14, 2016 at 11:19 am #

    ” Does that mean it’s fine and good for a school-age kid to walk to and from school independently from Monday to Friday, but illegal for that same kid to, say, walk to soccer practice alone on Saturday morning, even if the soccer field is outside the same school?”

    Is there a law that says it is illegal? Then it is. If there is no such law, then it isn’t. Just the same as before. Because Mr. Lee’s amendment literally changed nothing.

    (Yes, there ARE some places where it’s illegal for children to walk to school. On limited-access highways, and in roadways that have sidewalks attached, and on private land where the landowner does not consent.)

  9. Linda January 14, 2016 at 12:06 pm #

    Symbolic or not, any indication that the pendulum is swinging back in the direction of common sense and decriminalizing parenting choices is a good thing. And further publicity of the underlying issues is also good.

  10. david zaitzeff January 14, 2016 at 12:21 pm #

    About half of the states in the USA have an initiative process and these states are largely those on the West or West Coast, with Florida and Maine and Ohio and some others.

    If the state legislators are acting like idiots, then, it is an easy matter, if you have a good idea and some public support, to put an initiative on the ballot. In Washington state for example, there have been several initiatives put on the ballot with all or mostly volunteers, when there was enough public support . . . and these have included labelling GMO and the new initiative re a carbon tax and there was the chicken well-being one several years ago which could have been put on the ballot and was withdrawn or the signatures were not submitted.

    If and when you write a possible item of leg . . . you have two ways of doing it . . . one is to be more specific . . . and the other is to specify that a kid travelling to and from school or to and from a park or grocery or convenience store shall not be made a matter of crime, unless “generally considered unreasonable.” You can also insert into the legislation that the violation be a knowing violation of reasonableness or a reckless violation of reasonable standards.

    there are a variety of things that will happen if you get into legislation a reasonableness standard . . . the law will end up, often favoring liberty to any one willing to fight a little. For example, the Wa state legislature 40 years ago wrote an indecent exposure law, saying that IE was a knowing violation of what would cause a reasonable affront . . . 40 years ago you would have expected or allowed for public nudity or toplessness . . . but now, it happens several times a year and in several parks and beaches, because I and others were willing to “fight” in the courts and the court of public opinion that in some situations, nudity or near-nudity was reasonable or expected or not a cause of reasonable affront or not a knowing cause of reasonable affront.

    If you have a good idea, sometimes you will have money. Usually you have money if there is some economic group or interest that will benefit from the initiative . . . usually you have grassroots support if the idea is good and there is no group with an economic interest . . . such as the groceries or food manufacturing against the GMO inititative.

    Anyway, you figure out how to word your proposed initiative . . . and whether or not to use age-specific OK or a reasonableness standard or a knowing violation of what is reasonable or a reckless violation of what is reasonable . . .

    get together with a dozen others of similar views, come to an agreement about the wording . . .

    and then work to put things on the ballot.

    You make progress even if you fail and you make progress even if you are on the ballot and lose. The reason is that it brings the issue to public attention.

    Some issues failed the first 2 or 3 times they were on the ballot and succeed after 1 or 2 or 3 fails. Same with getting on the ballot . . . as with the MJ legislation in Washington state, which changed gradually over a period of nearly 15 years . . .

    So, have a great idea and some grassroots support or find a person or group willing to put up $300K to $400 or $500K and put a measure on the ballot.

    You can also do it by getting on the ballot, or trying to get on the ballot, in a small state and people from around the USA contributing . . . Washington is much smaller than California and Nevada is smaller than both. You can get on the ballot in Colorado and Arizona and Nevada quite easily, in financial terms, by comparison with getting on the ballot in California . . . you could also do Maine . . . I think Ohio is in the middle . . .

    You can also rewrite certain ways of the cps groups handling things, together with a change in legislation . . .

    If your idea has any merit, the newspapers will cover it and some of them will expose cps idiot behavior . . .

  11. bob magee January 14, 2016 at 12:40 pm #

    current score after 10 postings:

    James Pollack 4

    rest of site 6

    c’mon James – only 2 behind…

  12. Dean Whinery January 14, 2016 at 12:56 pm #

    Maybe, just maybe, my godson’s kids will be allowed to walk 1-1/2 blocks to school in a quiet neighborhood where most of the traffic is parents driving their kids two blocks to school.

  13. lollipoplover January 14, 2016 at 1:09 pm #

    “The part that I don’t like is “to school.” Why just school?”

    I agree, it should be a family transportation choice. How I choose to send my children to school, based on a variety economic, environmental, and parental factors, is not the business of the school or the government.My kids get themselves to school on time, every day. Kids that arrive to school on time and follow the arrival and dismissal guidelines as walkers should not be harassed for making a choice that has nothing to do with the school. Worry about kids that aren’t getting to school or have truancy issues.

    We need to stop treating every small commute like our children are these small, imploding bombs that will detonate without an escort. It’s just a walk home from school.

  14. James Pollock January 14, 2016 at 1:52 pm #

    “current score after 10 postings:
    James Pollack 4
    rest of site 6
    c’mon James – only 2 behind…”

    Updated score:
    bob magee:1
    Persons of normal intelligence 14.

    Sorry, bob, no chance of you catching up.

  15. James Pollock January 14, 2016 at 1:54 pm #

    ““The part that I don’t like is “to school.” Why just school?””

    Because it was an amendment to a school regulation bill.
    Because the federal government generally doesn’t have the authority to regulate in this area. (It’s mostly a state-level issue)

  16. Edward Hafner January 14, 2016 at 2:37 pm #

    James: “Do you not understand how legislation actually gets through Congress? If more than 10% of the legislators even READ the amendment, much less agreed with it, I’d be amazed.”

    Yes, James, I’m well aware of how legislation actually works -($$$,$$$). I’m also aware those votes are ON THE RECORD. Wave a politicians record in his/her face in front of voters and it means something. Even if that something is revealing said legislator doesn’t read bills that are voted on, THAT means something.
    If you aren’t trying to help correct a problem, you’re only hurting the effort. Some of us are trying.

  17. Buffy January 14, 2016 at 3:42 pm #

    Could we please just have one freaking thread in which no one responds to or engages James? Does no one understand troll behavior?

  18. James Pollock January 14, 2016 at 4:38 pm #

    Could we please have one freaking thread where Buffy minds her own business and stops trying to control what other people do, think, or say?

  19. James Pollock January 14, 2016 at 4:46 pm #

    “Yes, James, I’m well aware of how legislation actually works”

    Then you know that they have staffers to actually read the bills, all the various versions with and without amendments, and that side deals are often (usually) made to get votes for the overall combined package.

    If your measure of whether or not a Representative or a Senator actually agrees with a tiny part of an overall bill is by whether or not they voted for it… Well, Lee didn’t vote for the bill his amendment is attached to. Guess he isn’t a fan of free-range after all…

  20. Jason January 14, 2016 at 5:56 pm #

    Rand Paul said that if people had “a right to healthcare”, then they had a right to kidnap him from his dinner table and force him to provide them with healthcare. I don’t think he offered an amendment to the ACA to ensure that wouldn’t happen, though.

    Has anyone read this law to determine which part Senator Lee feared might be used to prevent children from traveling to school by any of the means he listed?

  21. Edward Hafner January 14, 2016 at 5:57 pm #

    No, James, that’s not how I measure an elected official or a supporter of Free Range Kids.
    Now go back, reread it all and pay attention this time.
    It’s dinner time where I live, I’ve had a bad week at work, and I’m just going to enjoy the rest of my evening.
    Haven’t participated here in a long time but it was fun, James.
    Maybe some other time.

  22. James Pollock January 14, 2016 at 6:56 pm #

    “No, James, that’s not how I measure an elected official or a supporter of Free Range Kids.”

    Of course not. Buy a sarcasm detector.

  23. ChicagoDad January 14, 2016 at 9:06 pm #

    When I was in school, so many years ago, we learned a few tricks about reading ancient laws and rules. Let’s say you are reading the medieval rules for some monestary, and every couple of years they write new rules that monks shouldn’t drink beer between meals. What conclusion do you draw? You conclude that the monks were drinking between meals, and the rules weren’t very effective at stopping it…you also speculate that the higher-ups in the monestary wanted monks to cut back on their drinking.

    Likewise, if the monestary never had a written rule about attendance at church services and events–and you know, from other sources, that services were really important to life in the monestary–then, you deduce that attendance at services wasn’t really ever a big problem. You get the idea.

    Ineffective laws tell you something important about the culture they are trying to change. You just have to listen, think and understand. Section 8542 of the Every Student Succeeds Act may be symbolic, but it tells me something interesting, and I like it.

  24. sexhysteria January 15, 2016 at 4:48 am #

    Symbolic victories are a good start!

  25. Katie January 15, 2016 at 7:28 am #

    It’s groundbreaking in the sense that a groundbreaking ceremony is- a start that is known about.

  26. FreedomForKids January 15, 2016 at 8:25 am #

    I have never studied law, and I may not be the brightest human being, but somehow I feel uneasy about laws created to give parents “rights” they have always inherently had. I don’t think supporting and celebrating these kinds of laws is the best way to protect our rights, though, even to myself, I don’t think I can articulate why, so I am just throwing this out there while in the meantime, I’ll be thinking it over.

    I know this: I am becoming ever more uneasy at the way our government in encroaching on our inalienable rights. We need to keep pushing-pushing back, but not by creating ever more laws which are open to interpretation and abuse. Government in the United States is supposed to be small, but it is looming ever larger.

    This is one of the reasons I did not clean my house up when I was expecting DCF to come knocking. I don’t think a representative of the U.S. government should tell me that I need to dust more thoroughly, or that my kids’ toys need to be picked up and put away every day. Isn’t that utterly absurd? Do we now need and want the government to tell us we have, in effect, their permission to allow our children to walk to school?

    I think we need many, many brave people to stand up and say THIS IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
    WE are the parents. BACK OFF. And then proceed to parent our children.

  27. Warren January 15, 2016 at 8:38 am #

    My suggestion for anyone that is being pushed by the school or whomever to not let their kids walk, bike or skip to school. Send them, with a copy of this legislation on them.

  28. Rachel January 19, 2016 at 4:55 pm #

    Yay!!