BY MAURA AMMENHEUSER
Did you hear the story about the Jonesboro, Ark., woman cited last week with misdemeanor child endangerment? Valerie Borders got into trouble after making her 10-year-old son walk 4.6 miles to school.
The boy's misbehavior on the school bus (one news report mentions yelling) got him suspended from the bus. Mom told him to walk.
When he was spotted walking alone, police arrived, drove the boy to school, then cited Borders. Jonesboro police spokesman Sgt. Lyle Waterworth was quoted speculating that the child could've faced possible injury or abduction. One report mentioned it was 30 degrees outside. (To read what Arkansas TV station KSLA reported, click here.)
What messages does this incident send to kids and parents? Hmm.
First, it tells the kid that if he's rowdy enough to get thrown off the bus, it's OK, because Mom will be legally forced to provide a ride for him. Basically the legal system handed the kid a free pass for bad behavior.
It says a 10-year-old isn't physically or psychologically capable of walking 4.6 miles. (I don't know whether this child has a cell phone. If so, he probably has GPS navigation, so hey, at least he wouldn't get lost.)
It tells children that 30-degree weather is far too harsh for their delicate systems to tolerate. Granted these temperatures are probably unusual for Arkansas. But I was reminded of "Farmer Boy," part of the "Little House on the Prairie" book series. "Farmer Boy" chronicles author Laura Ingalls Wilder's husband's childhood in the 1800s. It describes the Wilder kids performing farm chores in subfreezing weather, not to mention hiking to school in it. I'm not saying we should all live in the antiquated past, performing manual labor in frigid conditions. Frankly I'm glad we don't have to. But young Almanzo Wilder managed to survive to adulthood.
The Jonesboro incident also says the police are better judges of appropriate discipline than parents. (See Jennifer Dean's post last week about another example of government overriding parents' decisions, by clicking here.)
Borders chose a punishment some parents might find extreme, but she felt this would work with her kid. The child should feel it's extreme or it won't motivate him to shape up. It would probably take him more than an hour to walk that distance, and presumably do it again to return home after school. That's inconvenient enough to likely improve his bus behavior.
One news report quoted Waterworth, the police spokesman, saying, "You ask yourself the question, is that [a 4.6 mile walk to school] safe for the child?"
Actually, that's the most relevant question. From what I've read of this case, it doesn't sound like there was any actual danger - kind of the heart of the matter with a child endangerment charge. Did he have to walk through gang-infested crime zones, cross a highway or river or some other obstacle that would in fact threaten his safety?
If so, Mom should've chosen a different punishment. But no news reports I've seen mentioned any specific, imminent threat - except perhaps his mother's wrath. The ABC report said that when the police officer arrived, the boy told him not to take him home because "Mother will beat me."
Was he being literal? If so, then the problem here is actual domestic violence (prosecute away!), not that the kid had to walk 4.6 miles. If the boy simply meant "Mom's mad at me already; please just let me get to school without making any more waves," that's not grounds for police action.
The boy, by the way, made a plea on his mother's behalf. She's facing a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. He said he he understood she was just trying to teach him a lesson.
How would you handle this situation?
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