According to a new DC bill, safer streets start in the classroom

A look, an insult or a shove can start a fight among young people who want to make it clear that they can’t be pushed around. But those incidents can lead to severe violence.

That’s why D.C. Ward 4 Council member Janeese Lewis George said she’s among the seven council members backing a bill that would make conflict resolution part of the curriculum in D.C. public and charter schools.

Lewis George said that she sees a connection between the violence that has led to assaults — and even shootings — between young people and a lack of coping skills.

In cases where a young person feels humiliated, which Lewis George said, happens “when you have your other friends and peers watching,” that can escalate to an “I’ll-show-you” response, leading to violence.

Lewis George said there are organizations and some schools, including Lafayette Elementary School in Northwest D.C., offering conflict resolution instruction that has made a difference. Asked for data, Lewis George said much of the evidence is anecdotal.

“We’ve seen so many turnarounds for students who at first had difficulty processing emotions, processing feelings and responding to them in the appropriate way,” said Lewis George.

In the bill introduced by the council members, the school system would develop an age-appropriate curriculum to teach conflict resolution skills, which would include peer mediation and restorative practices. That instruction would start in elementary school and continue through high school.

Lewis George said it’s important that the instruction isn’t just a one-off experience, but develops lifelong coping skills.

The possible financial impact isn’t specified in the bill. The legislation states that during the budget process, starting with the 2025-26 academic year, DCPS “shall provide an opportunity for each local school advisory team to comment on whether additional financial or nonfinancial resources are necessary” to provide the instruction.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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