A provision tucked deep within a gargantuan education bill passed in December clarifies the murky legal standing of free-range parenting—sort of. Advocates for the practice—that is, encouraging kids to build self-reliance skills by traveling their neighborhoods solo—are hailing the 101-word section as a victory, though the law still leaves parents and journeying kiddos subject to state and local guidelines.
The amendment is on page 857 of the Every Student Succeeds Act, and is the work of Mike Lee, the Republican senator from Utah who has become something of a political patron saint of anti-helicopter parenting. The provision declares that nothing will “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.”(Note that the language does not specify how parents are to give legitimate permission.)
It also shields parents who allow their kids to travel “reasonably and safely to and from school by a means the parents believe is age appropriate” from civil or criminal charges.
The state and local exemption could be a killer in this case, and one lawyer consulted by StreetsBlogUSA called the amendment a “symbolic effort.” But the legislation proves that people are heeding the call of the free-range movement, whose adherents believe that children need to be entrusted with independence in order to grow into independent adults. It also proves a point that Amanda Kolson Hurley highlighted at CityLab last year: Legislating when children are old enough to do anything is a tricky, tricky business.