A strange case out of the suburbs of Chattanooga, Tennessee is making the rounds this month and it seems to take the question of government vs. parents and “free range children” to a whole new level. Fox News picked up the story recently, first reported in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, in which police responded to a report of a mother making her children walk to school as punishment for missing the bus.
A 32-year-old Marion County, Tenn., mother faces an April court date on child neglect charges after deputies found her driving ahead of her young daughters as she made them walk miles to school on Valley View Highway.
The charges are linked to an investigation launched March 1 after Marion County sheriff’s deputy Chris Ladd and another deputy responded to a call about the situation and spotted two girls with a dog “walking the fog line just south of Ketner Mill Road and a gold Cadillac parked on the shoulder, engine running, just north of Ketner Mill Road,” Ladd’s report states.
The mother, Lisa Marie Palmer of Chicken Dave Road near Whitwell, told deputies her daughters were being punished for missing the bus, Marion County Sheriff Ronnie “Bo” Burnett said.
Unlike some previous stories we’ve covered where parents allowed their children to walk alone to the local park, this one has a number of differences. First of all, the girls were walking with their dog. Second, they don’t seem to have been “alone” at any time because mom was leading them along in her car, allowing them to walk along and catch up before moving ahead. Clearly she was keeping an eye on them, even though the cops are claiming that she, “was in no position to reach her children safely in the event of an emergency.”
They’re also saying that temperatures “were cold” but let’s remember that we’re talking about Tennessee here. Checking the weather for March 1st in Chattanooga, the temperature was somewhere between 50 and 55, depending what time school starts. It was overcast, but not raining. (There hasn’t been snow in any significant amount there since saber toothed tigers roamed the region.) If the kids were wearing even a light sweater that doesn’t exactly sound like conditions where anyone is going to be collapsing from exposure.
For the sake of being complete in terms of coverage, the family did themselves no favors when the police arrived. Mom apparently didn’t have a valid driver’s license. Her husband and the children’s grandfather were called to the scene, but gramps started a fight with the cops and had to be disarmed of a fixed blade sheath knife on his belt. They also found drug paraphernalia in the car, but no drugs.
These aren’t ideal conditions, but I’d like to return to the original question which the arrest brought up. Is it child abuse of some sort to make two school age children walk to class – a distance of between two and three miles – in mild weather with their mother watching them from a vehicle? More to the point, is it sufficiently negligent to call in Child Protective Services and drag them into court? It seems to me that plenty of children around the country make that sort of trip on a daily basis during the school year as a matter of habit, not as punishment. (Or at least they used to. I know I did. Yes, yes… uphill both ways in the snow and I had to fight off a grizzly bear with my loose leaf notebook.)
We really don’t need the government raising our kids unless and until it can be shown that the parents are truly negligent and endangering their offspring. Unless there’s a lot more to the story than is being told, this doesn’t seem to have crossed that line.