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:
SEC. 9116. RULE OF CONSTRUCTION REGARDING TRAVEL TO AND FROM SCHOOL…
'(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.