The long walk to and from school | News
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Getting ready for school, and brushing his teeth, Dalton Weeks has much more on his mind than just first day of school jitters.
This year, the 11-year-old is starting the sixth grade at Oceanway Middle School and along with a new school, comes a new fear - the 1.2-mile walk it takes to get there.
Dalton's mother, Ellen, walks him to the corner of Gillespie Avenue and Airport Center Drive. This is the part of the trip that worries her most.
"I do not want him to cross it," said Ellen Weeks "There's too much traffic. There's been accidents. It scares me to death that he's going to get hit by a car."
Dalton looks both ways and carefully crosses Airport Center Drive. Six lanes of traffic and a median -- with no crosswalk, and no stop sign. The one for traffic on Gillespie Avenue? A car knocked it out of commission this weekend.
For Dalton, it's a successful, but anxious crossing.
"I got a little more nervous when [the cars] started flying behind me," he said.
And the numbers back up his fears. According to the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, they've responded to 14 traffic-related injury calls on this stretch of road in the last two years. Weeks hopes that's enough to convince school leaders to make a change.
"Anything to make it safer for not just my son, but all of them."
For now, Dalton dials his mom to let her know he's safe.
"Hello?" he said. "I'm at school."
Traffic isn't the only concern on Dalton's first day of middle school. There are also big dogs, barbed wire and - most worrisome to mom:
"There are sex offenders," said Ellen Weeks. "There is one a couple of houses down from here on this road."
Beginning at their home on Collen Road, there are more than nine sex offenders and one sexual predator in a four-block radius. Some of them live as close as Shamrock Drive and Gillespie Avenue - streets Dalton must walk to get to school.
Walking more than a mile along the overgrown sidewalks, Dalton is constantly looking over his shoulder.
"Pretty long and tiring," he said. "Not so safe with these people."
In an area where data from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office shows 7 assaults and one aggravated assault in the last two years.
Scary statistics for a mom who can't be there every step of the way.
"I don't care that he walks," said Ellen Weeks. "I trust him - it's everybody else."
When school lets out, Dalton has to begin the long walk all over again. His mother, Ellen Weeks, doesn't have a car, and the closest bus stop is over a mile north of the family's home.
Weeks said when she called Duval County Public Schools to ask for a solution, they suggested Dalton cross at Main Street.
"They want him to walk down this sidewalk and cross over Main Street and take Main Street to the school," she said.
But Weeks believes that route is even more dangerous - the sidewalk ends shortly after the intersection - leaving nothing between pedestrians and traffic.
"He'll miss school before he has to take Main Street" she said.
We shared Weeks' concerns with Jill Johnson, the director of Communications for Duval Schools. She said the system's transportation department will look into the issue and she encourages families with similar concerns to give them a call.
"We might be able to add an additional bus stop in a different location that are safer for our students," Johnson told First Coast News. "Obviously, we have 733 different buses on the road, so we can't know all of the different concerns that parents might have, so definitely urging parents to contact us so that we can find out and do our own investigation."
Tonight, despite the torrential downpour, Dalton is safe at home, but his mother said she won't feel safe until something changes.
"A crossing guard, a bus stop, something. It doesn't have to be close to the school ... the elementary kids get a bus stop. If they think it's unsafe for them to walk, then why can't the middle schoolers have one?"