Free-Range Kids

School Accidentally Lets 5-Year-Old Boy Walk Home. Nothing Happened, but Mom Is Furious.

"I am still trying to work out how he figured it out."


Famveldman / Dreamstime

A mom whose 5-year-old ended up walking 2.5 miles home from kindergarten after a school mix-up is planning to take legal action.

Admittedly, the school, Fairview Elementary in the East Bay near San Francisco, seems to have screwed up. At dismissal time, the little boy, Jackson, was in the bathroom. By the time he got out, the kids being taken to the after-school program—a group that was supposed to include him—had already been picked up. So he grabbed his backpack, followed the gaggle of kids heading out the door, and left the building. Then he walked all the way home.

According to the East Bay Times, the angry mom was at first just confused:

"I am still trying to work out how he figured it out," [Duana] Kirby said.

She said her son came home from school on Monday and called her.

" 'Jackson, why did you take your cell phone to school?' " Kirby said. "He said, 'Mommy, I didn't. I am at home.' "

For its part, the school issued a statement:

"The safety and security of our students is our highest priority," the district said. "The district currently has policies and procedures in place to ensure the safety of children while at school and in our after school programs," the statement read. "We take this incident very seriously and are investigating to determine what steps need to be taken to ensure that this does not happen again."

That sounds good. I hope the officials review their procedures, but don't end up overcompensating and turning the place into a prison. Because that is not such a far-fetched idea. A story coming out of England this week shows where excessive caution can lead. A mom, Amie Gale, was told her 8-year-old daughter could no longer walk home from school on her own—adults were now required to pick their kids up. And yet, for two years the girl had already been walking home on her own. This was just a new rule, out of the blue, that seemed to have nothing to do with actual safety and everything to do with over-protection and maybe a fear of litigation. The mom works at home. Should she quit her job so she can pick up her daughter every afternoon? She decided, instead, to find a new school for her daughter.

So here's the deal: I hope Jackson's mom gets the assurances she deserves that the school is going to keep a more watchful eye on him in the future. But a one-off mistake is no reason to institute draconian dismissal procedures that give kids—and their parents—less freedom, even when they are ready for it.