Let’s put ourselves in this mother’s shoes:

You have a daughter in fifth grade in one of the top school districts in the country. You move from a neighborhood close to the school and so have to come up with a new commute plan.

“Once we knew where we were going to move this fall, we looked at different options: bus, metro, car? We are fortunate to work flexible schedules so we could certainly have arranged to drive her. But once we realized that there was a direct bus between our house and the school that only took 10 minutes, we decided to explore that option further,” the real life mother in this scenario said.

“To practice riding the bus to and from school, we rode the route together twice. Then one time she rode by herself with me following in the car. We talked at length about what to do if someone bothers you on the bus (change seats, ask other passengers or the driver for help) and about crossing roads safely ... We make sure that she always has her cell phone with her and calls me when she gets to school in the morning and when she gets on the bus to go home in the afternoon. We also signed up for alerts on both our phones, so we always know when the next bus is coming.”

The daughter begins taking the bus and all goes well.

Until one day the phone rings. It’s the principal and she is reporting that several other parents have seen the daughter depart the bus. They are very concerned, even urging school official to report the behavior to Child Protective Services. She asks if the mother is not afraid that her daughter will be kidnapped.

What follows is an extended tussle between the mother and school officials over what is appropriate supervision of a fifth-grader.

In the end, the school says it plans to have CPS review the decision. The girl keeps catching the bus — and has established a group of regular bus-riding friends whom she calls “people friends.” The Maryland mother, meanwhile, is going public.

Anna, who would like to be identified only by her first name, first wrote to the national blog Free Range Kids about the Rockville, Maryland scuffle.

She wrote that she doubts “that the other parents, the majority of whom have never ridden a city bus themselves, will follow my lead. But I am going to continue mentioning how my daughter gets to school, every time I talk to them. And when they invariably get that twitchy look in their eye, I am going to tell them about ‘people friends.’ ”

She later followed up with an electronic interview with me.

Montgomery schools spokesman Dana Tofig said he was not aware of the incident. “In general, if a principal has concerns about the well-being of a child, they are required to do what they feel is necessary to protect the child,” he said.

Meanwhile, the pro-transit blog Greater Greater Washington also picked up on the Rockville mother’s story.

Editor-in-chief David Alpert wrote that the incident speaks to impercitible but dramatic changes in our lifestyle, “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, making school officials start to believe that is the only way and flip out when anyone bucks the trend.”

I asked Anna how her daughter has felt about the whole matter. She said she has not discussed it in detail with her, but mentioned that the principal would rather she be driven to school.

Anna reported that her daughter’s responded was: “They are just being overprotective”. 

What do you think? Is this an indication of, as one commenter to Greater Greater Washington wrote, our “anti-bacterial” mentality?

Would you let your fifth-grader commute by public bus? Why or why not?

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