SOUTH JORDAN — With an orange vest and careful instructions from his mother, 5½-year-old Noah Talbot makes his way home from school at noon each day by himself.
The kindergartner at Monte Vista Elementary usually walks with his older brother every morning, but he comes home alone since his class only meets for half a day.
Last Friday, Noah was on his way to school when he was stopped by a South Jordan police officer. The officer picked him and drove him home.
The officer then issued his mother, Rosella Talbot, a citation for misdemeanor child neglect, saying it was irresponsible for her to allow her young son to walk from school unaccompanied.
"I am not a neglectful parent, thank you very much," she told the Deseret News. "I have just done everything I could possibly do."
The citation is the most recent blow, Talbot said, in what has been an ongoing, difficult dilemma for the mother of six. When certain bus routes were cut by the Jordan School District this year, Talbot's kids were among those who had to start walking.
"Because of our budget shortfall, we had to eliminate our hazardous bus routes," said Steve Dunham, spokesman for the district.
Per state law, districts are required to bus elementary students who live more than a mile and a half from their school. Prior to this year, the district voluntarily provided hazardous bus routes in developing areas where cities hadn't put in sidewalks or where other hazards exist, but it eliminated 75 percent of the routes this year. The district will eliminate the rest next year.
Talbot said prior to school starting, she and her husband met with school officials and tried to get Noah a seat on the bus, even if it only drove him across busy 2700 West to the top of her street. When that didn't work out, she went to South Jordan City Council meetings, advocating for crossing guards, she said.
"I've fought it; I really have," she said. "I've tried and tried and tried."
Feeling like she was out of options, Talbot spoke with police officers about safety and also rode a bike with her son the mile-long distance from school for more than two weeks, showing him the best route to take and the obstacles to avoid. She outfitted him with an orange helmet, and spoke with his teacher to make sure he wears an orange safety vest every day when he leaves the classroom so he'll be seen by cars.
"My kids are not allowed to go to school without an orange vest on," she said of Noah and his 8-year-old brother. "I have the school teacher on speed dial."
Noah crosses two streets in order to get home, one of which is a busy 2700 West. His mom worries about it, but said she has tried to make the circumstances as safe as possible. So it was especially frustrating when police officer Elyse Charter showed up at her house, issued her a citation and took her fingerprints.
According to the officer's report, Charter was concerned about the cold weather and "became increasingly alarmed by the sheer number of vehicles traveling on 2700 West."
Noah caught the officer's eye when she saw him being followed by a gold-colored van. After speaking with the driver, Charter learned that the driver had seen the boy walking 30 minutes earlier and was afraid he was lost. Talbot said Noah and his brother had gotten in an argument that morning, and Noah walked back home. His mom told him that wasn't acceptable, she said, and called his teacher to tell her Noah would be late. Then she sent him back on his way.
Charter wrote in her report that Noah had been stopped by another officer in March after spotting him walking alone to preschool. There are no sidewalks for about half of the boy's daily trek.
Like every school in the district, Monte Vista has a "safe walking route" it suggests for students. It recommends that Noah cross the street with a crossing guard near the school, then walk on the east side of 2700 West until he reaches his street, Talbot said. But Talbot has instructed her son to walk on the west side of the street because the east side has no sidewalk for long stretches and she feels a sidewalk is safer. However, that means her son has to cross without a crossing guard at another location.
Talbot said the Friday incident worried her young son, who thought he was in trouble when the police officer picked him up. Now he feels responsible for his mom's ticket.
"He doesn't want his mommy to get in trouble," she said. "He was so upset."
Talbot has a younger child at home and an older child with cerebral palsy, and while she said she could drive Noah from school, she would rather he walk and walk safely.
"These are some serious charges. ... I can't be a Girl Scout leader. I can't work at a day care," she said. "I am just so frustrated."