The thought of having her 11-year-old daughter walk 1.7 miles crossing Interstate 235 to a new school next fall has Jessica Bilotta so worked up, she has contacted everyone she can think of in the Des Moines (Iowa) school district.
It's not just that her daughter, Madison, would have to make the round-trip trek every school day from Windsor Heights to Merrill Middle School. Nor that the girl will likely have to do so on some days when frostbite is a threat. It’s that Madison will have to find some way to get across Interstate Highway 235 from a high-traffic area near her home on 64th Street on the west side.
“I have been so stressed, I’ve cried,” said Bilotta, a single parent. “It’s boiling down to me having to move. But I’m renting a house, and I really can’t afford to move.”
Under Iowa law, elementary and middle school students qualify to ride public school buses for free only if they live two or more miles from the school; for high school students, the rule is three miles. Bilotta lives three blocks from the two-mile mark, and the most direct route to school involves some of Des Moines’s busiest streets — some with no shoulder or sidewalks.
Bilotta said she asked administrators if she could drop Madison at the school just before her job starts at 7 a.m. and pick her up after she gets off at 4 p.m., but school officials told her that’s not an option. Students are not allowed at the school before 7 a.m. and must be picked up by 3 p.m., Merrill Assistant Principal Diane Kehm told her in emails.