Photo by Tribute/ Homenaje on Flickr.

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.

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.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). 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 lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.