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Reading, writing, and riding: Getting to school in an era of fear

The award for most sensational start-of-school headline goes to the Associated Press, which asks, “Back-to-school, but how? Parents fear walking, bus.”

Photo courtesy of ##
Photo courtesy of ##

Compared with all of the stresses of returning to school — making friends, encountering a new teacher, getting more homework — walking doesn’t seem like too serious of a problem. Still, decisions about how to get to school are major ones in many families, and they can be fraught with fear. The AP article describes how parents across the country eschew walking or biking for their children because they fear abduction and unsafe streets.

Even here in New York, where kids learn how to navigate public transportation from an early age, many parents are apprehensive about putting their kids on a city bus alone each morning. Last year, New York Sun columnist Lenore Skenazy made waves when she let her then-9-year-old son find his way home alone from Midtown Manhattan, with only a Metrocard and subway map for guidance; some critics even accused her of child abuse. Skenazy appears at the end of the AP article, explaining that her son usually walks home from school on his own both out of necessity — his parents are at work when school lets out — and because she wants to take a stand against the culture of fear that has permeated parenting.

The DOE subsidizes public transportation for many kids, depending on how far from their school they live, and provides yellow bus service for students through 6th grade who live far from their schools. But for the majority of elementary and middle school students who attend schools in their neighborhoods, walking or biking makes the most sense, even with their dangers. If you haven’t tried walking to school, think about attempting it on Oct. 8 — that’s the National Center for Safe Routes to Schools’ 2008 Walk to School Day. And if you’re thinking about biking, check out the Streetswiki entry “Urban Bicycling with Children.”

I walked or biked the half-mile to my elementary school on my own starting in about 4th grade — and even though a child had been abducted by a stranger several years earlier in the neighborhood, most of my friends did the same. What did you do? And how are your children — or students — commuting to school this year?

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