When Can Kids Walk To And From School Alone?

How old should a child be before he can walk to school by himself? Many people have strong opinions on this. While some parents express concern about safety issues, others tout the benefits of independence and self-sufficiency. Parents know their children best, of course, but they should make sure to act within the law.

What The Law Says About Walking To School Alone

When is it okay for your child to walk to school on his own? The specific details of your own situation should factor into your answer. You need to base this decision on your child's maturity level, the safety of your neighborhood, and other related information. However, the law has the final say, so it is important to know what the legal rules are.

READ MORE: How To Know When Your Kid Is Ready to Stay Home Alone

According to federal law, parents have the right to allow their children to bike, walk, or ride the bus to school alone. Section 858 of the Every Student Succeeds Act protects the rights of children to go out alone.

The Every Student Succeeds Act

Utah senator Mike Lee, who is a supporter of the Free Range Kids movement, sponsored the Every Student Succeeds Act. Section 858 does not replace any state or local laws but provides a federal baseline. Hopefully, it will reduce the occurrence of cops picking up local kids for playing at the park unsupervised.

The Every Student Succeeds Act was introduced after several parents got into legal trouble after letting their kids walk to school, play at the park, or otherwise spend time unsupervised. One mother found herself in hot water after letting her son wait in the car while she grocery shopped. Parents had enough after these incidents and called for legal steps to protect their children's autonomy.

READ MORE: Children Must Have Unsupervised Playtime To Develop Properly, Doctors Say

State And Local Law Overrides Federal

In the case of the Every Student Succeeds Act, state and local municipalities have the ability to write their own laws preventing kids from walking alone. Local municipalities are assumed to know the specifics about safety factors related to children left unsupervised. Generally, areas with higher crime rates have their own specific limitations, while quieter neighborhoods default to the federal law.

What About Irresponsible Parents?

The Every Student Succeeds Act leaves the decision of whether kids can walk to school alone up to the parents' discretion. Most people would agree that parents know their kids best, and have the right to make their own family rules. But what about parents who would be irresponsible and potentially compromise their children's safety?

Unfortunately, this can happen. There is some protection though: if parents act negligently, they may be reported to Child Support Services. If this happens, the agency can make an investigation into the specific situation.

OK, But What About Some Guidelines?

Now that you are aware of the law, you may still wonder whether your child is ready to walk to school unaccompanied by an adult.

According to the Safe Routes to School program, children under the age of ten should generally not cross a street alone. They state that parents should consider things like the distance to the school, the availability of sidewalks, the type of neighborhood and the local street safety measures.

Overall, most people think five-year-olds should walk with an adult. By ages six or seven, they may be ready to walk in a group. By age ten, most children are ready to walk to school alone.

Free Range Was Once The Standard

Older generations may react with surprise to this law. In their day, walking to school alone and playing in the neighborhood in the afternoons was the norm.

The ironic thing is, the streets are generally a much safer place today than they were back then. Nevertheless, parents a few generations ago did not keep tabs on where their kids were and simply expected them home by dinner. Today many parents track their children's whereabouts with modern technology. They worry about dangers on the street, yet they do not worry about online threats.

In a nutshell, parents have the right to decide when their kids can walk to school alone, as long as they stay within any local laws. Usually, a ten-year-old is ready to walk to school alone.

READ NEXT: Everything To Know About Free-Range Parenting

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