Greater Greater Washington

School officials freak out over 5th grader riding public bus

A Rockville mother decided to let her 10-year-old daughter ride a public bus to get to her school, confident it would be safe. Other "concerned parents" reported this to the principal, who called the central office, who even called Child Welfare Services.


Photo by Tribute/ Homenaje on Flickr.

The mother, Anna, wrote a letter to the Free Range Kids blog that several readers sent in as a tip:

It had been brought to her attention, the principal said, by some "concerned parents," that my daughter had been riding the city bus to and from school.

I said, yes, we had just moved outside of the neighborhood, and felt that this was the most convenient way for our 5th grader to get there and back.

The principal asked was I not concerned for her safety? "Safety from what?" I inquired. "Kidnapping," she said reluctantly. ...

We did a lot of planning and preparation before we allowed L. to ride the bus. As a parent I feel that it is my job to advocate for her right to practice this new skill, for as long as she wants to do it and for as long as we her parents continue to feel it is safe.
The principal went on to tell the mother that the central office wanted Child Welfare Services to evaluate whether it was an acceptable parenting decision to let a 5th grader ride the bus.

In contrast to the anxious overreaction from school officials, Anna writes, her daughter told her mother she didn't need to wait in the car at the bus stop for the bus to arrive, because she wanted to talk to her "people friends":

There was the Chinese lady, the lady with the baby who cried a lot (but it's not his fault, he can't help it), and the grandma who always got on at the next stop. In a few short weeks, my daughter had surrounded herself with a community of people who recognized her, who were happy to see her, and who surely would step in if someone tried to hurt her.
One commenter noted that many places have kids ride the buses even younger. One said that when he or she grew up in Queens, all children rode the bus starting in 2nd grade. Another noted that Hamburg, Germany teaches kids to ride public transportation in 4th grade so they can use it alone after that.

Our suburban areas, including Montgomery County, have spent far too long building an environment that is not especially hospitable to kids walking to school. That forces almost all parents to drive their kids to school when the school bus is not an option, making school officials start to believe those are the only ways and flip out when anyone bucks the trend.

Correction: The last paragraph originally left out riding the school bus as one of the more common ways kids get to school. It now includes this as well as being driven by parents.

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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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I don't know if I could allow it personally but I don't see how you could call protective services on them since if harm ever befell the child it'd be from someone else. Otherwise you could argue negligence every time you aren't directly supervising your child.

by drumz on Nov 19, 2012 9:58 am • linkreport

Hell, when I was her age I was wandering all over New York City on the subway, buses and ferry. No problems. And, I think most kidnappings involve divorced couples fighting over custody.

by Ken Firestone on Nov 19, 2012 10:09 am • linkreport

Tpyical reaction from the hide your kids, hide your wife anti-bacterial America.

by jinushaun on Nov 19, 2012 10:11 am • linkreport

With all this connectivity, I've always found it ironic how paranoid we are of eachother that we don't trust a 10 year old to be safe in the public realm. As a father of three though, I admit to some of that paranoia, even though I used to play on a trash dump by gypsy camp and a train station with my buddies when I was 10 years old.

by Thayer-D on Nov 19, 2012 10:17 am • linkreport

I used two Ride On buses to get home from school in the Rockville area when I was 10 years old, though oftentimes it was with my 13 year old brother or other friends. We saw a lot of interesting things, but it genuinely felt like other riders were watching out for us.

by Peter Hadley on Nov 19, 2012 10:17 am • linkreport

It is better he is riding a public bus to school instead of sneaking out of the building with friends and riding the public bus away from school while class is in session.

by John Muller on Nov 19, 2012 10:19 am • linkreport

I don't think that the part about almost all parents being forced to drive their kids to school is quite accurate.

1. MCPS says that they bus 100,000 children.(I don't know if that means that MCPS gives 100,000 children the option of taking the school bus, or if it means that 100,000 children actually do take the school bus.) MCPS total enrollment is about 146,500.

2. As I recall, the reason the parent was responsible for providing transportation (which the parent did do, by buying a bus pass) is because the family had moved out of the school's boundaries. Otherwise either MCPS would have considered the child a walker, or MCPS would have been responsible for transportation, via school bus.

Also, really, I think that what worried the other parents was not that the child was taking the public bus, but rather, more generally, that the child was out in the world on her own. They would probably also have wanted to call CPS if the child had walked to school by herself, or biked by herself.

by Miriam on Nov 19, 2012 10:24 am • linkreport

All kids in DC who are not handicapped ride Metrorail or Metrobus to school.

by Ron on Nov 19, 2012 10:26 am • linkreport

I'd sue the principal for defamation for calling CWS on me for that. How is it any different than riding a school bus?

by Redline SOS on Nov 19, 2012 10:27 am • linkreport

The comparison to when "we were kids" isn't really apt, because many of us were much less supervised than kids today. That said, WMATA runs three buses to Deal MS (and probably other schools, that's just what i know because it's where my kids goes) for 6th, 7th and 8th graders, and a ton of kids take it. 6th graders are generally 11, but its not like some great leap of maturity happens between 10 and 11. Seems like a total overreaction by the other parents and administration.

by Urbanette on Nov 19, 2012 10:35 am • linkreport

Given the brutality I remember from some school buses, the kid might be safer riding the bus with adults who have outgrown that Lord-of-the-Flies stage.

by Flora on Nov 19, 2012 10:40 am • linkreport

If you've ever been on the Green Line at 8 AM, you know that the only thing that a 5th-grader has to worry about are the hordes of 6th-graders.

by Tom Veil on Nov 19, 2012 10:45 am • linkreport

When I was 5th grade I would walk my brother (who's 4 1/2 years younger) two miles each way to school. We had no buses or sidewalks where I grew up in Mclean Va. Not ideal, but hardly a matter for social services.

by Mark on Nov 19, 2012 10:46 am • linkreport

Agreed on the overreaction front. It's interesting how much place impacts culture. Rockville obviously is not far away in terms of miles, but it's a different culture completely when it comes to children and their ability to transport themselves.

I live on the corner of Connecticut and Nebraska, so I see the aforementioned kids heading to Deal on the bus all the time. Kids that live north of me, coming from up closer to Chevy Chase Circle, ride south on either the L1 or L2, get off at Nebraska, and then switch to the Deal bus. I see this every day.

My daughter is currently in kindergarten, but when she's 11 and going to Deal, I would fully expect her to be walking over there or to be hopping onto the bus (like someone else noted, there's not a world of difference between a 10 and 11 year old, and perhaps my daughter might walk herself to school the three-tenths of a mile when she's 10).

by Sandy on Nov 19, 2012 10:46 am • linkreport

@Flora-
I'm with you, a bit tongue-in-cheek. My junior high school bus was packed, we sat three to a seat, and there were all sorts of arguments, name calling, etc... The Fairfax Connector bus I ride is great. Mostly people just talk about work, complain about traffic, read a paper (the older pax do this with an acutal paper; the younger pax use an iPad/iPhone, etc...-- funny to see) or tap away at their e-mail.

by Transport. on Nov 19, 2012 10:49 am • linkreport

Good grief! From kindergarten on, I got myself to school. For the first few years it was walking (near a mile) and then bicycle. I pity the kids of today.

by Dan Gamber on Nov 19, 2012 10:53 am • linkreport

I'm with Flora. The kid has a collection of adults who know her and watch out for her on the city bus. On a school bus you usually have only the driver, who is not invested in any one kid, and is too busy driving to attend to any but the most obvious and outrageous squabbles. As a kid I would have loved an opportunity to be on a city bus away from bullies on my way to and from school.

Just how many pervert kidnappers do folks imagine are out there, and how much safer do they think keeping a kid off the bus will make him or her compared to the cruelty youngsters inflict on one another?

by Lucre on Nov 19, 2012 10:57 am • linkreport

The comparison to when "we were kids" isn't really apt, because many of us were much less supervised than kids today.

Wait, but isn't that the point? Seems to me the comparison to when we were kids is very apt. By every objective measure things were more dangerous in the 70s and 80s, and yet for some reason we've got kids on lock-down these days.

by oboe on Nov 19, 2012 10:58 am • linkreport

I think the most shocking part of this story is that MCPS felt this warranted calling Child Welfare Services. It's not particularly surprising to me that parents in this part of Montgomery County would be so aghast at the idea of a child riding -gasp!- public transportation to school. But the fact that after talking with the mother, public school officials still felt it was necessary to call CWS (who, by the way, are supposed to be investigating cases of ACTUAL child abuse) is pretty appalling.

by Rebecca on Nov 19, 2012 11:08 am • linkreport

Helicopter parents live in such a self reinforcing insular world that they get nervous when some reasonable parenting choice, like letting a 10 year old ride a bus, shows them just how absurd their behavior is.

by aaa on Nov 19, 2012 11:10 am • linkreport

Wait, but isn't that the point? Seems to me the comparison to when we were kids is very apt. By every objective measure things were more dangerous in the 70s and 80s, and yet for some reason we've got kids on lock-down these days.

Yes, oboe, here is how my conversations about this almost always go.

Suburban me: You know, I do think it's sad that children these days don't get to be out on their own the way we used to.
Suburban parent: Oh, but it's so much more dangerous these days!

by Miriam on Nov 19, 2012 11:18 am • linkreport

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, non-family child kidnappings occur at a rate of .47 out of 1000 children (which by my idiot math is ~ one half of one percent), or 3 percent of all children reported missing each year.

I think the kid is pretty safe on the bus.

by MM on Nov 19, 2012 11:29 am • linkreport

The principal went on to tell the mother that the central office wanted Child Welfare Services to evaluate whether it was an acceptable parenting decision to let a 5th grader ride the bus.

I can see the Fox News headline now: Government "Parenting Panel" Forces Parents to Defend Parenting Decisions at "Secret Courts"

by Falls Church on Nov 19, 2012 11:39 am • linkreport

I agree it's an overreaction. But sadly, for many suburban and rural parents (and school administrators), the bus is a foreign concept. Something they've only encountered through rumor, innuendo, and television.

I mean, who would let a kid take the subway, when Charles Bronson spends 2 hours on there each day shooting thugs?

GM's advertizing doesn't help matters:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/rllayman/9006896/

by Matt Johnson on Nov 19, 2012 11:40 am • linkreport

this sort of overreaction to a child being given the slightest bit of age-appropriate freedom reminds me of my cousin, who refused to let her 12 year old trick or treat this year with friends, unsupervised. She had all the usual excuses, but the fact remains that the town they live in hardly has even a home invasion a year. And halloween has so many extra eyes out on the streets. Yet, the fear of the incredibly small risk of abduction (and there's never been a reported stranger abduction in this town) overrode every bit of common sense in my cousin. And of course those of us who suggested that, yes, a 12 year old trick or treating with friends without an adult escort is perfectly appropriate were accused of being terrible parents and not putting safety first. Ridiculous.

I feel the same way about these busybody parents in Rockville. They are not living in reality. Worse, they're stunting the growth of their own children. I started riding Ride On in 6th grade. NOT ONCE did I feel at risk on the bus or at a bus stop. Surely there must be statistics for how many children have been abducted by strangers on or waiting for the Ride On. I'm goign to hazzard a guess that the numebr is statistically insignificant given how many people use the system.

by Birdie on Nov 19, 2012 11:42 am • linkreport

"Concerned parents" ... love it.

Paranoid nosy busy-bodies with nothing better to do, helicopter parents inflicting their own fears on their children and psychologically crippling them for life.

They are the ones who should be hauled up before CPS.

by Jack Love on Nov 19, 2012 11:46 am • linkreport

I can understand the concern of the parents and perhaps even the principal, but calling CWS is beyond excessive. I grew up in a walkable suburb. Starting in Kindergarten you walked to school. There were crossing guards along the routes and police would patrol the main corridors. Maybe an adult walked with you, but usually you were on your own since all our parents had to hop a train to NYC for work.

Riding a bus at 10 years old is hardly a reason to freak out. My neighbors son is 10 and he rides the metro to school in the morning and the bus home in the evening. Like Anna's daughter, he likes meeting new "people friends".

I'm not a parent and I can understand the desire to keep your child safe. However, all this helicopter parenting is going to come back to bit them when the kid is an adult and doesn't have basic survival skills.

by Veronica O. Davis (Ms V) on Nov 19, 2012 11:55 am • linkreport

One concern that I have about allowing my kids more freedom, is that they will be the only ones, i.e. one eight y.o. walking to school alone is more vulnerable than 40. That said, I let my eight y.o. walk to school by himself sometimes (don't call CPS on me, it's only three blocks!)

For my 12 y.o. who rides the bus, her life is SO much better than mine was in the suburbs - some irony for people who move to the burbs for the kids. She takes Metro to the movies with her friends, meets up after school at Starbucks or Vace, participates in afterschool activities and takes the bus home, doesn't have to worry about a ride. My (single) mom worked full time so I couldn't go anywhere I couldn't walk to, which was just the neighbors' homes.

@Birdie - I told my 12 y.o. she was too old to trick or treat! "Trick or treating is for little kids..." But she ended up going, no adult - it didn't occur to me that an adult should go with her!

by Urbanette on Nov 19, 2012 12:05 pm • linkreport

The irony is that these parents who think its way too dangerous to let a 10 year old ride the bus won't bat an eye when it's time to let their 16 year old drive a car. That's a much greater danger.

by Falls Church on Nov 19, 2012 12:07 pm • linkreport

I let my boys take the RideOn home from their school starting in 3rd grade. Although they were not supposed to be alone until 5th or 6th grade one of my sons decided, after accompanying an older brother a few times that he knew what to do. So he tried it by himself and fell asleep! Waking up in Wheaton (although he didn't know where he was!) he called me from a payphone and we found a nice lady nearby who could tell me his location. Amazingly, he was non-plussed! Many parents I knew disagreed with my decision but, ironically, would allow their 5th graders to see R-rated slasher movies! I think protecting my son's soul and sensibilities is even more important. Should we call CPS if we know a child has seen an "inappropriate" movie?

by Kate Hadley on Nov 19, 2012 12:12 pm • linkreport

One of my students (aged 13) couldn't come to her piano lesson, in NoVA, because she had no ride. I said, take the bus (which stops right at the shopping center where my studio is). She said she had never in her LIFE ridden the bus.

by Citygirl on Nov 19, 2012 12:12 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church +1

by Tina on Nov 19, 2012 12:13 pm • linkreport

I was walking myself to and from school starting in 2nd grade with no problems. Of course, we had a lot of advantages. 1) My route was mostly on low-speed neighborhood streets, except for the street right in front of the school which had a crossing guard. 2) My older sister had walked me on that route all through kindergarten-1st grade. 3) My Mom was always home when I arrived, and in fact I think she sometimes met me halfway.

Oh, and I also rode the bus on my own to an after-school event twice a week starting in 6th grade.

In general, I think what this family is doing is just fine. Kids can ride the bus as long as it's a regular route that they ride every day. I wouldn't want to trust them to read a complicated map with transfers, but for a simple A-to-B ride that they do every day most kids should be able to handle that after they've been properly trained.

by Marc on Nov 19, 2012 12:39 pm • linkreport

"One commenter noted that many places have kids ride the buses even younger."

Make that just about every other country/continent/culture in the world: Asia, Europe, Latin America and Africa.

Aside from my own experience walking and riding as a kid in the 60s and 70s, everywhere I've traveled you see kids in the single digits (5-10 yrs old) riding public transportation themselves.

Could it be a function of a well-developed media culture in the U.S. which buries us in slasher films and gore?

by Alvin on Nov 19, 2012 1:02 pm • linkreport

isnt MCPS the same school district to take nearly 20 years to remove a teacher that was proven to have abused several children, but call CSS for a parent knowingly allowing their kid to ride the bus to school, where is the harm or danager thats seen on the school bus

by Jerome on Nov 19, 2012 1:26 pm • linkreport

At least the kid isn't hitch-hiking.

by Tom on Nov 19, 2012 1:55 pm • linkreport

This is rank nonsense!

As a Montgomery County taxpayer, I am ashamed that my tax dollars are funding such rear-end-covering idiocy.

A normal, well-informed and reasonably observant child (and especially a child with a cell phone) should be able (and in my opinion, even encouraged) to ride mass transit at age 9 or 10, at least during the daytime hours.

If transit is unsafe, then that tells me that there is something wrong with transit, not with the parents.

And I have seen more than a few children behaving very badly on transit - in the District of Columbia. Where? Especially on the B-route (sorry, Red Line, Glenmont side), also on the S2 and S4 lines on 16th Street, N.W.

by C. P. Zilliacus on Nov 19, 2012 2:01 pm • linkreport

Looking at the tweets and comments, I have never seen such unanimity across the political spectrum (both left-right and urbanist-suburbanist).

by Ben Ross on Nov 19, 2012 2:06 pm • linkreport

1. http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Free-Muni-for-kids-broached-to-transit-panel-3511033.php

one of these days I'll get around to writing about this in the context of free transit proposals.

2. @MattJohnson... bus rodeos, etc. to introduce/reintroduce suburban families to transit.

3. RideOn ought to incorporate that kid/his parents into transit marketing initiatives.

4. This is for kids a bit older, but still relevant:

¡2006 Arlington County Teen Transit Initiative Study: http://mobilitylab.org/2012/01/23/2006-arlington-county-teen-transit-initiative-study/

by Richard Layman on Nov 19, 2012 2:38 pm • linkreport

@MM - Thanks for the data. Your estimate of one half of one percent (as low as that is) is actually 10 times too high! A rate of 0.47 per 1,000 is .047%. The child has a far higher chance of dying in a car crash in her parents' car while being driven to school!

by Jimmy on Nov 19, 2012 5:52 pm • linkreport

It isn't that the amount of supervision has changed, it's the type and the circumstances are more ridiculous in their extremes here than elsewhere.

I rode city buses alone from about age 8 or 9 and in our neighboring town, the Catholic schools used the local public buses in lieu of their own buses. This sort of thing became less normal during the "child abduction paranoia" of the 80s, when child supervision became more of an issue. The irony is that these days with both parents often working full time, kids take the bus home to an empty house or perhaps get supervision from a domestic worker or someone else other than a parent. There is a norm of parental supervision in many other places, though which means play dates, organized athletics, dance lessons, etc. and neighborhoods full of kids with recreational facilities nearby that are empty and no one playing in their yards.

It's not just an economic thing. When I go back to Cleveland, I can go through suburbs as well off or more as any in MoCo and actually see kids outside being kids. They might even be playing ball in the street, or something else that engender paranoia here.

The parent who got child welfare sicced on them should turn around and sue the parent and school people responsible. They're unlikely to get much financial compensation or their reputation in tact, but they can make a point that won't be forgotten.

by Rich on Nov 19, 2012 6:13 pm • linkreport

Demography is destiny and we're not having enough kids. The French are better than we are at incentivizing child production. Stupid reactions like this one needlessly increase the cost o having offspring.

by Steven on Nov 19, 2012 11:39 pm • linkreport

I don't understand why this is a big deal. Remember "latch key children", where working parent left their children home after school? I was one of them, as were thousands of other children. Just like staying at home alone, children have the capacity for complex thought, the ability to pay attention and to follow directions.

There is this perception that the world is a more dangerous place now than 20 or 30 years ago. As someone who grew up during the crack era, literally dodging bullets, I respectfully disagree.

At 9 years-old and younger, I took the bus in Philadelphia to and from school without incident because my mother taught how, as do many parents today.

by Randall M. on Nov 20, 2012 7:10 am • linkreport

I wonder how many Of those "concerned parents" offered to drive the kid to school with their own child. People are usually concerned enough to point fingers but not concerned enough to help out. They were just judgmental busk bodies IMHO

by Me on Nov 20, 2012 7:57 am • linkreport

I was in 3rd grade when I started riding the city bus to school in Baltimore city (Belvedere Square @ Norther Parkway to Roland Park Public) - in retrospect during the height of the crack epidemic. Never once did I feel unsafe, at least until I got to school and ran into the older kids!

From 1st and 2nd it was on the back of my Dad's Honda Goldwing Motorcycle, or occasionally our neighbor's 70's Cadillac with no seatbelts in the back. Definitely way less safe than the bus.

From 6th grade on I just rode my bike, which was fantastic.

A car would NOT be safer. It's not logical.

by Lee on Nov 20, 2012 8:39 am • linkreport

We have become way too paranoid as a culture. John Walsh suffered a horrible loss but the crime that he committed on the American People is worse. He has made millions exploiting our worst fears and denied generations of children the beauty of free play. Remember your mom telling you to go outside and play so that she could get stuff done.

This kid sounds mature enough to ride the bus a couple of blocks. However the paranoid parents who ran to the principal and CPS do not show the same level of maturity. If you have an issue with a parent, please reach out to them and get their side of the story before potentially ruining lives and reputations. Also do not project your kids onto others.

For those who want to get past the fear and paranoia I highly recommend Gavin De Becker's books and most of his advice is spot on. The link below is appropriate for the topic:

http://gavindebecker.com/resources/child_safety/walking_to_school_alone/

by mommyworks on Nov 20, 2012 8:59 am • linkreport

This coming on the heels of Montgomery County telling parents that a crosswalk between their neighborhood and a school across the street would be dangerous and essentially ordering them to put their kids on the school bus really speaks to the misplaced priorities we're dealing with. The greatest impediment to redeveloping this region into a Smart Growth center may not be so much the zoning laws and street designs, but the actual mentality of the people and governments that sustain them. We've built a world that reflects our worldview -- one that presumes that we should always compartmentalize and control everything and keep our children isolated away from the world.

I agree with some of the commentators that the parent in this should raise a serious complaint, because the idea that school and child services officials even have an appropriate place to spend their time discussing this needs to be squashed. It's none of their business, and they -- as well as the 'reporting' parents -- need to be told as much.

by Doug Wendt on Nov 20, 2012 12:46 pm • linkreport

When I was in Vancouver, Canada several years ago my hosts (who visit the U.S. often) were comparing the similarities and differences between the two countries and they raised the point that in Vancouver kids ride the transit system (bus, skytrain, rail) to school. They went on to point out that the 10's or 100's of millions of dollars spent on a "part-time" school bus network (buses, maintenance, facilities, storage, drivers, managers, etc.) was invested in the larger transit system to make it better and to SAVE MONEY. I have to admit, when you look at the huge budget spent on school buses, wouldn't it make more sense to invest that money (along with a lot more money from other sources) into making a better regional transit system?

by Jess on Nov 20, 2012 1:36 pm • linkreport

The tragic incident about the school bus shooting that happened in Florida today certainly should illustrate that children are not automatically safe in the contained environment either.

Amazing how the fear of the unknown in these parents and principal should cause such a horribly handled response.

by Adam on Nov 20, 2012 2:55 pm • linkreport

The column is mistitled: Obviously, a fifth grader CAN ride a bus. But SHOULD she?

I think every area is different, and what may be safe and appropriate in one are of Metro may not be in others.

However, encouraging an unaccompanied ten year old to talk to strangers is a BAD idea wherever it's tried.

by Curmudgeon10 on Nov 21, 2012 6:03 am • linkreport

There is a general sense of paranoia from people who never used the bus system. A sense of community is usually developed on the Rideon Bus. I used to ride it to work for years and one knew who got on and off at specific stops, who was out sick, or running late.

This 10 year old is interacting with her community. It fosters independence. Why are other parents so worried? Are they afraid their children would want to do the same thing?

I do agree that kidnappings are usually committed by family members or people known to the family. This disparate community would actually pay attention if something went wrong.

Shame on the principal and the parents reporting this to CPA. They should be reported to CPA for preventing the mother from doing her job - raising an independent, successful child.

by cem on Nov 21, 2012 7:08 am • linkreport

Starting from age 9, I rode the 31/32/36 from Georgetown to Cleveland Park. This was in the 90s, so not exactly the hood, but back then Georgetown was a little more diverse, with homeless folks often riding the bus. I think the best thing the experience of riding the bus gave me was to humanize homelessness and expand my worldview.

During all those years, there was one time where I felt truly unsafe. I was probably 10 or 11 at the time, and I felt that someone was watching me from behind. It was not an overt thing that other adults would be able to see and stop. I was immediately on alert and started thinking about what I would do as my stop approached. When I got off the bus I sensed that the person was following me. Instead of walking the usual way home down residential streets, I meandered down Wisconsin slightly out of my way, and periodically swung my bag around pretending to do a ballet move so that I could see if the person was still there. Eventually he was gone, and I walked home and called my mom.

When she got home from work she asked me what happened and said I did the right thing. She didn't freak out and continued letting me ride the bus. The amount of trust I gained and sense of competence I felt that I was truly capable of handling myself in the world led me to be able to travel the world independently later in life.

So I would say the second best thing riding the bus gave me was the street smarts that put me on the alert that day and that have helped me in countless situations since then.

by Margaret on Nov 21, 2012 8:54 am • linkreport

Really, that's what MCPS spends their time worrying about?

I rode the public bus every day to Middle and High School in Newton MA, and I was hardly the only one. MBTA offered a special student rate ($0.30 per ride) and at least 10 of my classmates were on the same bus as I was every day.

I can't imagine so much has changed in 20 years...

by Andrew on Nov 21, 2012 9:35 am • linkreport

Times have changed - as an eight-year-old, I'd ride the bus from Queens to the Bronx right after school let out to see the dentist, and take the bus back home. On one trip, I left my galoshes, and realizing that, got off the bus, walked the mile and a half back to the office, found them still sitting in front of the door, and then got back on a bus and arrived home an hour late.
My brother and I walked to Manhattan over the Triboro Bridge, and on other days my mom would pack us lunches and we'd ride the subways from 9-5, the city as our playground - I might have been 12 and my brother 9.

by jeff parnes on Nov 21, 2012 10:07 am • linkreport

The thing that scares me more is a 10 year old with a smart phone and unmonitored internet access. Not riding a bus alone.....

by Shru on Nov 21, 2012 12:19 pm • linkreport

MM--Re your report that non-family kidnappings in US run an average of 0.47 per 1000 children. This is 0.047% and less than 1 child in 2000. Of course, if that is your child.... Not A Parent

by MB on Nov 21, 2012 1:41 pm • linkreport

My orthodontist was on Vermont Avenue, NW, and I remember riding the bus from Cheverly into DC by myself when I was nine. I felt very proud that my parents trusted my ability to handle myself. The bus transferred in Mount Rainier, which was not a good neighborhood back then. But my parents taught me to stay alert and be careful.

Parental attitudes today overemphasize fear instead of practical caution and often hinder their children's growth into self-confident adults.

by Rita O'Connor on Nov 21, 2012 3:54 pm • linkreport

An article in the Gazette has identified the mother and the principal.

This happened at Garrett Park Elementary School -- hardly a dangerous neighborhood. And the school department was at best lukewarm about the matter -- "The school system does not have a policy regarding the use of public transportation, and some students do take public transportation to school," rather than saying that children are allowed to take public transportation.

by Ben Ross on Nov 22, 2012 9:39 am • linkreport

Little late to this conversation, but I think there is a distinction between alone and with another kid. As a parent myself, I'm much more comfortable if my son (now 8, but very used to riding public transit) were with another reasonably responsible and mature kid, but not if he's by himself. We're slowly now giving him short trips to take on foot by himself in familiar urban settings and will work up to solo transit riding. Hopefully, though, there will always be someone to ride with, even if it's another kid.

by Ward 1 Guy on Nov 22, 2012 10:59 am • linkreport

This is fairly bizarre by objective standards, but sadly typical of this creeping mindset I like to call "lifetime in institutions".

I rode my bicycle to school starting in 2nd grade. When I was transferred to another school outside of my district for 7th grade, I had to ride a bike or walk a bit over 2 miles to get on the school-bus that got me the rest of the way to school. I did this for 3 years, unless the snow was too deep to find a sidewalk. I'd have taken public buses if any had had routes out that way back in those days (early 1970s).

Sure, I'm very weird but don't blame walking/biking to school for that. I had my bikes stolen a time or two but that's what you get when you forget to lock them. I didn't have any problems from adults or other kids back then, aside from the expected occasional bullying or teen spats.

Kids in MoCo seem to be meant to spend their entire lives in institutions. They start in the institution of day-care/pre-school, move to the institution of elementary school, and as time progresses, so do the institutions; first middle school, then highschool, then the institution of college, and of post-graduate or corporate work. Much of modern life seems to consist of being in an institution and most major life choices seem to be struggles to move from one institution to the next. For example, the struggle to pick out which institution will confer the college degree, which institution of major corporate status will be the employer, etc.

Institutions have policies, and deviate enough from the policies and you could wind up in the wrong institution, such as juvenile or even adult criminal institutions. And as we know, some institutions just won't admit applicants who are currently in the wrong institution.

Be all of that as it may, institutions also don't like deviation from their programs, whether or not any actual policies are violated.

Allowing a 10-year-old to ride a public bus -- according to the institutionalist mindset -- smacks of self-directed learning or unplanned experience, all of which could lead to deviation from the institution's planned set of experiences. A 10-year-old riding the bus might not fail to learn all of the lessons carefully (and in a structured way!) provided by the institution, but they might learn something that the institution is not in existence to teach: self-confidence, self-reliance, and the other basic tools of Freedom.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks.

by Thomas Hardman on Nov 22, 2012 12:24 pm • linkreport

Ridiculous that Montgomery County would call CPS for responsible parents raising their child to be independent, but they have no concern for a principal accused of sexually harrassing his teachers (trial coming up in spring 2013) and witness has observed principal taking small boys into closet who emerge screaming and subsequently suffer severe psychiatric problems. (Kemp Mill Elementary School).

by Mom on Nov 22, 2012 5:40 pm • linkreport


The only way it could get weirder is if it developed that the 10-year-old was riding the bus to get away from an institutionally-empowered abuser (can we all mutter Nittany Lions) and CPS knowingly forced the kid off of the bus back into the hands of some monster like Sandusky.

Time to step back and get a sanity check for all concerned... except for the people brave enough to report on the madness and call it what it is.

by Thomas Hardman on Nov 22, 2012 11:46 pm • linkreport

When I was in 3rd grade growing up in Chicago, I used to routinely ride the IC Railroad downtown after school to go have dinner with my parents who oftentime worked late hours.

It was pretty simple. Get on, get off. read until I hit downtown and walk to their office by 4:30.

frankly if more kids would and especially high school kids ride the bus, they'd learn some serious street smarts and would learn more about the world

by pat b on Nov 23, 2012 1:17 am • linkreport

Born and raised in a working class neighborhood within five miles of downtown Chicago, I walked the mile to my parochial school every day, walked home for lunch, back after lunch, and home at the end of the day. (The school didn't have buses.) When the weather was bad I took the CTA bus. That started when I was seven years old; when I was eleven I began to ride the "L" downtown. I traveled alone and no parents would have dreamed of contacting school officials, because almost all kids traveled that way. Now I have friends here in the DC area who are in their fifties and have never taken public transportation! When has overprotectiveness ever helped a child?

by LC on Nov 23, 2012 10:12 am • linkreport

Good job Liz, I find it ironic the school cared so much about this non-incident. My son goes to GPES and was assaulted by an older boy on a school bus. My son came home with scratch marks on his neck. The school took the boy who assaulted my son off the bus for one day and that was the extent of that situation. The principal there needs to get her priorities straight.

by H.O. on Nov 28, 2012 2:51 pm • linkreport

Hi H.O. It is great to hear that there are other parents at the school who don't think that this is such a big deal. I do find it ironic that, statistically, Liz is much safer on the RideOn than she would be if driven by me or even on the school bus. I hope that the bully learned his lesson and that your son enjoys riding the school bus. But if perchance he does not and your house is anywhere near a #5 bus stop, I know Liz would love a little buddy to ride with.

by Mom33 on Nov 28, 2012 11:15 pm • linkreport

I wonder though. If anything happens to this little girl on her way to and from school, will everyone turn around and ask why this girl was by herself?

by D Q on Dec 4, 2012 7:32 pm • linkreport

Getting out and experiencing the world is a necessity. Parents these days are raising unhealthy, socially inept children who relate to video games more than they relate to humans. It seems to me that some of these"concerned parents"may be creating the very monsters they fear by over protecting and coddling them.

by Mary P. on May 26, 2013 2:11 pm • linkreport

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