DC parents press council over student safety measures; Bowser speeds up timeline for road projects

A bill that the D.C. council is discussing would create a new government office focused on student safety in the District. And several city parents testified before the council Tuesday morning to throw their support behind the legislation.

The bill — 24-66: Safe Passage to School Expansion Act of 2021 — creates an Office of Safe Passage that reports to Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Several D.C. parents told the council that it’s sorely needed.

Tyesha Andrews, a Ward 8 mother and a member of Parents Amplifying Voices in Education, told the council about a crime in front of Plummer Elementary School in Southeast that brought a “significant police presence near the school grounds” at the end of September.

“Details on this incident were not provided to parents,” Andrews testified. She asked what protections will be put in place to protect school kids.

She also said that her son has been dropped off at the wrong location after school.

“I was leaving a doctor’s appointment when my husband called me to inform me that our son had not arrived home yet,” Andrews said. She told the council that she got a call from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education telling her they had dropped her son off 20 minutes previously at the wrong spot.

“This is unacceptable,” Andrews said.

Another mom and PAVE member, Bre’Jane’e Gray-Williams, told the council she has two children: a son who goes to school in Ward 2 and a daughter who goes to school in Ward 7. She said there’s a big difference in visible safety for kids.

“In Ward 2, I see a lot of safety checks, and I see a lot of crossing guards and they’re visible. But once I go to Ward 7, to my daughter’s school, there aren’t that many crossing guards that are visible,” Gray-Williams said.

She said she’d like to see more uniform implementation of crossing guards across D.C.

Ward 5 mom Nikki D’Angelo, with Democrats for Education Reform, testified about being stabbed on her way to work at Benning Elementary in the past.

“One day at the beginning of a school year, I was stabbed by a man in his car right off Benning Road, who attempted to pull me into his car,” D’Angelo said. “If I can be the victim of harassment and attempted kidnapping near a school, so can a small child.”

She said her son attends Burroughs Elementary in Northeast, and the crosswalk where a young girl who was recently killed by a vehicle driving through the neighborhood is not far from where she walks her son and dog to and from school. “In fact, we were almost hit by a car crossing Rhode Island Avenue in the crosswalk just the other day.”

The hearing came after Allison Hart was struck and killed by a van headed east on Irving Street at the intersection with 14th Street in Brookland in September. And more recently, a father and his two daughters were struck in Southeast on National Walk to School Day last week. Tyrone Belton had a broken ankle; his daughter Faith had a broken leg, and daughter Heavyn will require surgeries for facial injuries.

Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh, who chairs the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, said one of the goals of the possible new office is coordination and effectiveness.

“I think we want to be careful that we don’t create something that adds yet another layer that complicates things and makes it even worse,” Cheh said. “There’s a danger here by thinking of this … it’s just some superstructure that will settle in, and also to reinvent the wheel. I mean, there are many sources that we can turn to.”

Deputy Mayor of Education Paul Kihn said the mayor’s office is not in favor of creating a new office.

“We are deeply committed to Safe Passage work. Because of that, we believe the creation of a new office of Safe Passage is misguided, as it would duplicate efforts and direct resources towards unnecessary bureaucracy, and away from critical programs on the ground,” Kihn said.

He said the city is concerned “that creating additional layers of administration would delay and detract from the important work underway.”

Improvement projects

Also Tuesday, Mayor Bowser and the District Department of Transportation announced the “acceleration” of safety improvement projects across D.C.

“The work to make our roads and sidewalks safer is urgent,” Bowser said in a statement. “In addition to accelerating safety improvement projects citywide, residents deserve a faster process for having dangerous conditions on our roads and sidewalks addressed. We can and will move faster, and implementing a streamlined, less bureaucratic process is the first step in making that happen.”

Among the improvements are the installation of speed humps, stop signs and right turn hardening measures, according to a news release.

The new work is being done as part of D.C.’s Vision Zero initiative.

“The heartbreaking traffic crashes in recent weeks have reminded us all that roadway safety is paramount,” Acting DDOT Director Everett Lott said in a statement. “We’re increasing workloads and streamlining processes to finish our safety improvement projects quicker, and we’re also doing what we can to deter the reckless driver behavior that causes these senseless tragedies to begin with.”

According to the release, DDOT will also target 100 intersections that are within the District’s high-crash, high-injury corridors. Progress will be published on a dashboard on DDOT’s website.

Those wishing to comment on the D.C. Council bill can find more information online. The comment period is open until Oct. 26.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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