"It happened about 1,600 times in the last school year: Bus drivers in Hillsborough County arrived at the bus stops in the afternoon with kindergarten students who had no parents or guardians to meet them."
So begins an article in Florida's Tampa Bay Times describing the terrible scourge of parents who trust their kids to walk home from the school bus stop.
The problem, from the school's point of view, is that if a security detail, er, parent is not present, the child must be returned to the school, wreaking havoc on the bus schedule. But listen to the wording (italics mine):
"More than half the incidents involved repeat offenders. ...
"District staff hope to cut down on these incidents by tweaking their current procedure.
"They've drafted an 'initial KG bus letter' that school administrators can use as often as they like to get the message across. If the violations continue, a second letter orders the parent to come into the school for a meeting to try and pinpoint the reasons.
"As a last resort, the district's chief of security will get involved. After sending out yet another letter and meeting with the parent, the chief will determine whether the district can handle things or child welfare officials need to get involved."
In other words: Parents who trust their kids and their neighborhoods are being treated like criminals. They are "offenders" who are violating a law that they never voted on and being tracked by what sounds like the Stasi.
This is not only overkill but also a perfect example of the trend toward involving the authorities for every little blip when it comes to kids. Gosh, last week, a mom forwarded me a flier outlining her daughter's Girl Scout troop rules: "If a girl is not picked up within 15 minutes after the end of a program, a phone call will be made to the girl's emergency contact number. After 30 minutes, the police will be called and the child will be reported as abandoned."
Do we really think it's better to get officials involved in a dispute between a Scout leader and a parent running late? Or between the school and a parent who wants little Ava to walk the three houses home by herself? What if that parent is a stay-at-home mom with an infant she doesn't have to wake and schlep to the bus stop every afternoon to wait for his big sister?
Families have a lot of different modi operandi. Some let kids walk. Some let kids wait. Some are Johnny on the spot. And some — believe it or not — are not perfect. They goof up. They arrive late or not at all. Should they have their children taken away?
The answer is not to fiddle with the number of violations allowed or the exact time frame. The answer is simpler than that: Scrap the policy of needing a guardian at the bus stop, and let the parents decide whether their kids are ready to walk home unaccompanied. Parents who don't think their kids can handle this are free to wait at the stop. The others can be absent. And if the real problem is a lack of sidewalks or crosswalks, then do something about that rather than threaten the parents.
Similarly, if a parent doesn't pick up the Scout on time, drop the child from the troop; don't send the kid to foster care.
We are micromanaging parents with excessive rules and draconian threats. Time to back off.