School gridlock has another meaning

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My suburban town has five elementary schools, all of which were built during an era when most children walked to school. Now parents are more likely to drive kids. The result: traffic jams of epic proportions around school entrances twice a day.

I'm glad my son, like the neighbor kids, walks the block and a half to school (in the company of an adult). But I feel a sadness that something fundamental has been altered in the school landscape.

These days, there are many plausible reasons for parents to drive kids. It's often more convenient than waiting for the bus. Afterschool activities sometimes require sprinting from one location to another. But most important, it gives parents a sense that they are in control of their child's safety.

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I, too, have wrestled with the safety issue. Is it smothering or common sense to not allow a child to walk to school? What exactly are all these parents, myself included, afraid of?

Intellectually, we know the risk of something happening is very small. FBI statistics say that child abductions are decreasing. But tell that to Elizabeth Smart's parents, who thankfully welcomed her home last week after she was abducted from her bedroom in June.

The media play a big role in inflating people's fears. While many of today's parents can remember carefree childhoods, I also remember visits from patrol officers who taught us how to avoid strangers. Our parents didn't have 24-hour-news cable TV to keep them preoccupied with fears for our safety.

Recently, my son's school sent home word that fifth-graders would escort the younger children from drop-off at the curb to the school entrance. Now that's a safety improvement I can get behind.

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