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By Erin Glanville

About this blog: While state and federal politics dominate the headlines, local issues have an enormous impact on our everyday lives. This blog will attempt to shine a light on topics of public interest and facilitate greater participation in the ...  (More)

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It?s Not About The Officer Or The Mom?It?s About All Of Us

Uploaded: Sep 17, 2014
Recently, The Almanac reported on a Menlo Park police officer who noticed a fourth grade boy walking home from Encinal school and felt so concerned that the busy street conditions were too dangerous that the officer escorted the boy home. The boy's mother, who clearly felt that the boy was old enough to navigate the trip home by himself, felt that the interference was misplaced, that her judgment was being called into question, and worst of all, that the experience with the officer had instilled an overwhelming sense of fear in her son. In reading the story, it's easy to get caught up in questioning whether or not the officer over stepped, or whether a 9 year old is ready to navigate a walk home alone. But the root of the problem doesn't lie with the officer or the mother's decision; the problem is the rest of us who contribute to making a walk to school unsafe.

We don't mean to do it, but sometimes we are busy, late, distracted, listening to squabbling kids, or talking or texting on a cell phone. We speed, try to make lights, and sometimes make turns that we shouldn't. We don't watch out for bicyclists or pedestrians (and sometimes bicyclists add to the chaos by running through stop signs). We park in bike lanes when we shouldn't. (This last one I have never done, but I admit to having committed some of these driving sins myself.) The end result is that an officer who has seen too many accidents feels compelled to act.

When it comes to getting to school, the Menlo Park School District participates in a Safe Routes To Schools program and encourages families and students to walk or bike to school. After 4 years of attending school, this mom felt her son was ready for the responsibility of walking home on his own. She broke no policy?this is a judgment call only a parent can make based on their particular child's age and maturity, the location/environment, and the distance.

In my experience, getting myself to and from school was a huge leap in my personal development. I was a latchkey kid. I had two working parents and either took the bus or walked home from school starting at age 9 or so. (A lot of us did that; according to the National Center for Safe Routes to School, back in 1969, 48 percent of K-8th grade students walked or bicycled to school. Today, only about 13 percent do which may be partly why a child walking home alone today might stand out.) The independence thrilled me; I felt trusted to make, safe decisions and wanted to prove that I was responsible enough to deserve that confidence.

I recognize, however, that I'm not in proverbial Kansas anymore, and our streets are much more chaotic than those I grew up navigating. My middle son, who is a 5th grader, enjoys riding his bike to school, to martial arts, and to swim and baseball practices which are all within a mile or so. Despite his excitement for the independence and maturity he feels getting himself places on his bike, whenever he walks out the door, I cringe. I worry about distracted and new drivers, and his not paying attention on his bike or making reckless decisions. I occasionally follow him and check to see that he's following the route we've mapped out, using the bike lanes correctly, stopping at stop signs, etc. He started riding his bike last year and his biking skills and confidence have steadily improved through the experience, but it has been a stressful process because we know that accidents can happen even to the most cautious, prepared and experienced of adults.

There is no "danger-proofing" our kids (or ourselves for that matter). However, I do believe the only way for our kids to hone their "Spidey-sense", to improve their situational awareness and to make more thoughtful decisions is to let them have some experiences on their own after we've done all the educating, practicing and "what-do-you-do-if-this-happens? -ing" that we can with them. After that, it depends on us?all of us?to take care of each other.

Let's all try to slow down. Follow the rules. Put aside the distractions because they will be right there waiting for you once you stop the car. Enjoy the calming powers of classical music. Love those people on bikes or walking as though they are your own family members. Let's make sure that all parents have the ability to give their children that first little step of independence without the terrified stress of worrying that they won't hear the sound of a door opening and a familiar young voice announcing that they are finally home, safe.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by east of 101, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Sep 17, 2014 at 10:53 am

Government officials need to stay out family matters! It is not their job to instruct parents how to raise their children! The govenment is so reactive and god forbid if they were ever to change their approach to be proactive. I see kids riding their bikes to Laurel, Encinal and Hillview. What made this child so different? (PORTION DELETED.) My smalleST child is enrolled in our neighborhood school (Belle Haven Community) so that I can walk over to pick her up instead of shipping her on a bus to ther other side of town. I am curious is there anyway we can find out if this child was a Tinsley program student? I have a feeling it might have been. Why not improve community schools with well paid teachers so that we don't send our kids far away into a town with people that can relate to each other?

From Erin Glanville: Please don't speculate on the child's background-- off topic.

Posted by Tunbridge Wells, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on Sep 17, 2014 at 11:02 am

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

Thank you for this. Conversations around traffic safety issues often bring out a lot of complaints about one side or the other. Drivers are dangerous and distracted, or cyclists are unpredictable and arrogant. We are all people, though. We are humans, we are fallible, we make mistakes, but we are also sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives. A little more patience, a little more compassion, would go a long way, so that in the future the police aren't so worried about traffic that they discourage a child from being independent.

Posted by slow down, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Sep 17, 2014 at 11:20 am

Distracted driving doesn't have to happen. People need to slow down and pay attention. Reckless driving (including speeding and distracted driving and DUI) is 99.99% of the problem. Anyone looking for problems elsewhere is deluded. Everyone needs to focus on solving the big problem to keep our neighborhoods safe for our kids.

Posted by Encinal Mom, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Sep 17, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Thank you for focusing this issue on the rest of us and identifying our role in this problem. Yes, we need better traffic solutions, yes we need to prepare our kids to be independent, but most of all we need to do our job and act responsibly when we parents start driving our kids to school or to work.

I cycle with my daughter and her friends from Linfield Oaks to Encinal. Over the past month I have seen parents making really bad decisions based on what appears to be a sense of impatience, being late or "inconvenienced". They try to squeak through lights, speed through intersections so they don't have to wait 2 minutes and whip open doors without looking. They talk on the phone and text driving down Laurel and Encinal Ave! Despite repeated requests from School administration to try to make schools safe for kids parents drop kids off on the side of the road to avoid the carpool, pull into driveways to drop kids or stop in bike lanes. Do they not realize this is really dangerous for their child and for any child or pedestrian trying to navigate around this hazard. Sure there are the drivers who are annoyed about all the school traffic and respond by squealing past traffic at the earliest chance and are also part of the problem, but how will we ever deal with those drivers if we as parents don't feel motivated to drive safely for our kids?

I strongly urge all parents to get on a bike and ride to school with their kids. Only then will you truly appreciate the driving behaviors that make commuting to school a risky endeavor for kids and families.

If parents just cared enough about kids to just slow down and pay attention it would make a difference. Be compassionate - Be the role model you should be!

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of another community,
on Sep 17, 2014 at 6:02 pm

Actually, it is about the mom. The Palo Altofication of Menlo Park is really sad.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Sep 17, 2014 at 8:14 pm

east of 101:

the problem is our litigious society. Had something happened to the child and had the parents and their attorney had information saying that an officer had seen their son walking home alone and he hadn't done anything about it, you can be guaranteed those parents and their attorney would be suing the city and the PD for not "taking care of their son."

The officer was doing his job and he was protecting himself and the city from a potential frivolous lawsuit. He was also doing what I'm sure he thought in the best interests of the boy. Then again, they will probably sue anyway. The police can't win for losing in these situations.

Posted by WHAT?, a resident of another community,
on Sep 19, 2014 at 7:51 am

As a parent who has lost a child, I commend the officer for taking the CHILD'S best interest in making sure he was going to be alright. There are far too many (even one is too much) child abductions already.

Posted by Louise68, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Sep 19, 2014 at 2:09 pm

That poor officer -- so much anger at a man who was only trying to protect a child.

Here is a quote from the original story, posted Sept. 16 (the event happened Sept. 11)::
"...Sgt. Romero saw a child who looked very young and small who appeared to be struggling to cross the street [Glenwood and Laurel]. The boy initially told the officer he was 6 years old -- even though he was about to turn 9 -- and couldn't give Sgt. Romero his home address, although the boy did know his mother's cellphone number, according to the commander."

That child thus, in the officer's judgment, was obviously not mature enough to walk home alone. Thank you, Sgt. Romero! You took an oath to "protect and serve" and that is exactly what you did in this case.

Posted by Victor B., a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights,
on Sep 20, 2014 at 10:12 pm

Thanks for the article and I couldn't agree more with Encinal Mom. The attention of our law enforcement officers should be on making sure that our streets are safe for our kids. "Distracted" drivers are a danger to the public and need to get disciplined. We need to EMPOWER our children, not induce fear of their surroundings.

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