When Jonesboro, Arkansas mother Valerie Borders goes to court on April 30, she’ll face child endangerment charges and a possible year-long jail sentence (and/or a $1000 fine) for ordering her 10-year-old son, Nequavion, to walk 4.6 miles to school after his school bus privileges were suspended — for a fifth time — due to disruptive behavior.
He actually walked only a few blocks before a bank security guard spotted him, drove him to school, then notified the police.
Now, I could understand people criticizing Ms. Borders (just as, a few years ago, some people thought it was necessary to criticize a New York City mother for allowing her daughter, who was about Nequavion’s age, to take a subway trip across town by herself; yes, this was actually a news story) — but a criminal charge? And up to year in jail?
(Granted, a year-long sentence is unlikely: but the possibility exists, and she’ll have little legal recourse if she happens to draw a judge who’s in a surly mood that day)
So I have to wonder… where’s the line? If a 4.6 walk constitutes child endangerment, how about 3.5? Two-and-a-quarter? Does the judge simply get to channel Justice Potter Stewart and say “I can’t define child endangerment, but I know it when I see it”?
A Google Maps look at Nequavion’s proposed trek shows a rather straightforward path: no crossing of highways, or dangerous cliffs. I’m assuming that rival gangs of drug dealers don’t regularly engage in shootouts across South Caraway Road.
So we’re talking about distance. Not trying to sound like my grandfather here, but when I was 10 I regularly walked to and from the library by myself, a total of 6 miles. My son at that age walked just over 6 miles each year for the March of Dimes Walkathon. It’s true that these were voluntary walks, but Nequavion told police that he thought his punishment was fair.
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© 2012 by Bill Bickel unless otherwise noted.