Free-Range Kids

Sen. Mike Lee Added a Free-Range Kids Clause to Major Federal Legislation

Gives kids the right to walk to school.



Libertarian-leaning Republican Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a supporter of the Free-Range Kids movement, has proposed groundbreaking federal legislation to protect the rights of kids who want to walk to school on their own.

That's right: a Free-Range Kids provision made its way into the Every Child Achieves Act, a reauthorization of major federal law that governs funding and regulation of elementary education in the United States. The Free-Range Kids portion of the law would permit kids to walk or ride their bikes to school at an age their parents deem appropriate, without the threat of civil or criminal action.

Laws like this one could prevent—or at least deter—local officials from waging harassment campaigns against parents who want give their kids some autonomy. If this had been the law of the land when the Meitivs allowed their kids to walk home by themselves in Maryland, it might have forestalled the whole shebang. (Though, admittedly, the kids were coming back from the park, not school.)

The U.S. Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act on Thursday. The next step is for the House of Representatives and the Senate to hammer out any discrepancies between their respective education bills before revoting and sending the legislation on to President Obama.

At the moment, the major threats to Free-Range parenting come at the state and local level. But Lee's office told me in an email that he had been looking for a way to generate federal support for the movement, and his efforts are certainly welcome.

"Senator Lee was unable to support the final version of the bill, but he was happy to see this amendment included," his office told me.

Here's the section of the Every Child Achieves Act that deals with parental authority:


'(a) IN GENERAL.—Subject to subsection (b), nothing in this Act shall authorize the Secretary to, or shall be construed to (1) 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 (2) 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….

"Notwithstanding subsection (a), nothing in this section 15 shall be construed to preempt State or local laws."

And the tide begins to turn.

NEXT: California Legislators Want to Pass a Law That Requires Less Oil, More Clean Energy Use

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. It’s pretty damn sad that we need legislation to say that kids belong to their parents and that kids can be kids and ride their bike or play outside, or walk to school.

    We did all of those things when I was a kid and we didn’t need not damn cronybus bills to be able to do it.

    Libertarian moment, my fucking ass.

    1. We did all of those things when I was a kid and we didn’t need not no damn cronybus bills to be able to do it.

      I haven’t even finished my first cup of coffee yet…

    2. By the time they are done with this law, you will have to bubble rap your kid right before you have to follow them within the distance of eyesight, and thats only after you get them GPS micro chipped and bio-metrically registered.

      1. “bubble rap”

        definition: hip-hop music while bathing.


        1. Merely Chinese cooking in a storm is just woking in the rain.

    3. That’s what happens when everything that is not expressly allowed is forbidden.

      1. Should be the other way around.

  2. Exception to the potentially good clause of this new law. Another federal law.

  3. who get’s to determine what is responsibly and safely ?

    1. Uh…..the parents!

  4. And the tide begins to turn.

    Oh, neat. The government doesn’t have the right to “allow” you to permit your children to walk places, but if local governments are going to be dicks, at least this way there’s a federal law that stops them from putting you in prison and taking your kids away.

    “Notwithstanding subsection (a), nothing in this section 15 shall be construed to preempt State or local laws.”

    And then the tide rolled right back again.

    1. ^ more of this, please

      Inevitably the legal interpretation will become that this is the exception that proves the rule. This proposed amendment only makes sense if children do not already have the right to walk or bike to school. If that is true then it opens the door in an area where the government is already smashing* in through the window.

      Playing penny ante with our rights is not the way to ensure liberty, because the house always wins.

      *i typed “sneaking” there, but autocorrect changed it to smashing. So autocorrect turns out to not be totally worthless.

  5. This wouldn’t be the first law that attempts to “legalize” activity that is already ostensibly legal. Are we at the point that we can only do things if a law has been positively passed allowing us to? I don’t think so. In fact I’m afraid that more of this type of legislation will lead to less freedom, not more. It’s the wrong method to ensure liberty because it is based on the notion that government does out our rights, and I think it will eventually backfire.

    1. *doles out our rights, not “does”

      1. I believe a valid argument could be made that the Right of a parent to determine whether or not it is in the best interest of his child to walk or bike to and from school, the park, the corner grocery, falls into that grab-bag of un-enumerated Rights contained in an emanation from a penumbra of the 10th Amendment.
        Then, there’s the “dignity and autonomy” argument.

    2. Meant that comment to be here

    3. That which is not expressly permitted is prohibited.

      1. That which is not expressly prohibited is mandatory.

    4. And how about a few amendments to allow kids to be in the front yard unsupervised, or play in the park alone, or hang out in front of a store while I pop in? What about that? If it’s not permitted, it’s prohibited, right? Help us parents out here, Oh Great Ones!

    5. When government authorities misapply laws (ie, child neglect) sometimes they need reminders.

    6. The way I read it, this law doesn’t say it’s now legal for you to let your kid walk to school… it says they can’t fuck with you for letting them do it.

  6. Do you know who else had a law letting kids walk to school?

    1. Ho Chi Minh?

    2. Laura Ingalls Wilder?

  7. Nice. I guess. But.

    That it came to this is quite telling where we’re at.

    Utterly depressing.

  8. Did anyone see the byline?
    Lenore Skenazy | Jul. 17, 2015 2:08 am
    The story was published at two in the morning!
    Lenore is burning the midnight oil to shine a light for your rights, you ingrates! Happy Friday.

    1. Yeah, but she must’ve been drowsy. The legislation wouldn’t do what she seems to think it would. All it says is that this add’l legislation won’t impose any new liability for walking to school. Not only that, but it specifically says it does not pre-empt any state or local laws that might, for instance, bring about such liability.

      The only bright spot is it says you got enough clout to get members of Congress to acknowledge this as a possible area of contention.

  9. This is revolting; it’s blatantly unconstitutional and absolutely inappropriate for a federal law.

    Everyone who is cheering this doesn’t understand concepts such as the rule of law and should feel bad.

    We bitch about the EPA mandating toilet flush volumes. We complain about the ATF enforcing laws on Alaskans as if they were living in Connecticut. Just because we agree with the intention of this overreach is no reason to pretend that the overreach does not exist.

  10. “Notwithstanding subsection (a), nothing in this section 15 shall be construed to preempt State or local laws.”

    Then I’m not sure what the practical impact of this federal law is.

  11. “Notwithstanding subsection (a), nothing in this section 15 shall be construed to preempt State or local laws.”

    Why put this in? Often times federal does preempt state/local law on Constitutional issues. Why put in this clause? They want local law enforcement to still crack down on “irresponsible” parents?

  12. Up next… A heroic libertarian-leaning Senator will add a clause providing that the Feds may ***NOT*** use the interstate-commerce clause, and the fact that my nose-blowing affects the interstate commerce in booger rags, to regulate if and when I can blow my nose!

    But then there will be a sub-clause that says, “?unless the FDA finds my nose-blowing to be offensive.”

  13. its amazing that we have to right laws to allow freedom of course thats what the constitution is for to protect freedoms not suppress them

  14. The frenzy over child safety led to our little town’s police chief to have squad cars following school buses in the morning to protect them against motorists who don’t stop. Sounds reasonable?

    Well according to the US NHSTA, on average there are 8 children a year struck and killed by passing motorists.

    So all of this police activity in our town of 7,000 to address our share of 8 kids per year nationally who get struck by a vehicle other than the school bus. Based on a ratio of our population against the nation, it would take about 6,250 years for one kid to get killed getting on or off bus on average.

    1. Did they calculate in there, the probability that a child might get run over by the police car? Even discounting the certainly-finite probability of malfeasance (think drunken or angry-at-his-wife cop), there is always the possibility that the cop could get a sudden heart attack, or fall into a diabetic coma, while driving. Oh, yes, and, “greenhouse gasses” released by the cop car should be considered as well…

      We need a million-dollar study of such things, obviously!

    2. Not to mention, one of the first lessons I taught my kids was that there are two sets of laws when crossing the street; the laws of man and the laws of physics. One set apply some of the time, the others apply all of the time.

      8 kids a year almost sounds like more kids would be killed on the bus, playing sports at school, or eating school lunch or something.

    3. “If it saves just one child’s life every 6,250 years…”

      It really has nothing to do with child safety. It’s about pulling over anyone who doesn’t yield to the school bus and ticketing them. Just more “policing for profit” bullshit. Of course If they were honest about that it would piss people off, so instead they claim it’s “for the children” so all the mouth breathers and soccer moms will not only go along with it, but attack anyone who dares question it. E.g. “You monster, don’t you care about teh CHILDRENZ!!!!!”

      Kind of clever, in a sadistic and evil sort if way.

      1. I would think kind of dumb, but then that’s how it works with what I would describe, in polite terms, as the double talk one so often encounteres today.

  15. Growing up in Brooklyn,N.Y., I walked to grammar school, (Primary School), and to Junior H.S., there was never the slightest problem or question about such activity, why in blazes does there seem to be now? Took the street car, aka the trolley and walked a few blocks to the local High School. Of course, I do admit to being somewhat elderly these days, having been born in 1933. Many of the changes one notes are unfortunate not in the direction of improvement.

  16. Mike Lee, being who he is and believing what he believes, really ought to know better than this. Allowing a 7-year-old to walk to school by his or herself is nothing short of child endangerment and parents ought to be prosecuted for it. The legislation might as well have declared it open season for child abductors and pedophiles. I still support him overall, but?this is disappointing and ridiculous.

  17. yes, this is what our society has come to

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.