DFER DC Testimony Safe Passage to School Expansion Act of 2021
October 15, 2021
The Committee of the Whole &
the Committee on Transportation & the Environment Public Hearing:
Bill 24-66, the Safe Passage to School Expansion Act of 2021
Democrats for Education Reform DC
Good morning Chairman Mendelson, Councilmember Cheh, Committee of the Whole, and Committee on Transportation and the Environment:
My name is Nikki D’Angelo, and I am a Ward 5 resident, DC Public Schools (DCPS) parent, former DC charter school teacher, and former DCPS central office employee. I am testifying on behalf of Democrats for Education Reform DC (DFER DC). I am pleased to testify in support of Bill 24-66, the Safe Passage to School Expansion Act of 2021. I hope that this testimony will provide a critical perspective for keeping our students safe.
Now that students are back to school, the issue of safe passage has to be prioritized. As described in the Office of the Student’s Advocate’s survey and report on student safe passage, too many students do not feel safe. I believe that DC must ensure that all students, teachers, and community members are heard so that safe passage policies are specific to each school and community yet nimble enough to reflect our changing needs. This will require true flexibility, autonomy, and equity in budgeting and fidelity and accountability in practice.
I have many personal connections and stories that speak to what this bill hopes to accomplish. My son attends Burroughs Elementary in Ward 5 and the young girl who was recently killed by a vehicle driving through the neighborhood is not far from where I walk with my son and dog to and from school. We were almost hit by a car crossing Rhode Island Avenue in the crosswalk the other day.
I used to work at IDEA Public Charter school in Deanwood. I heard too many times from students about how unsafe they feel walking to and from the metro, especially considering there was usually a lot of activity near the Deanwood Recreation Center one block away. I also used to work off of Benning road at DC Prep Benning Elementary. Walking to work one day at the beginning of the school year, I was stopped by a man in his car right off Benning road who attempted to pull me into his car. If I can be the victim of harassment and attempted kidnapping near a school, so can a small child. I always appreciated that many students had access to safe passage buses and routes. However, I would have loved to see more folks on the ground trained and supported to handle traffic and conflicts that inevitably occur in a large city like ours. If my students and I had the in-depth support a bill like this could provide, so many damaging experiences would have been prevented.
I know much is being done regarding these issues. With this new bill, I appreciate the focus on collaboration and problem solving amongst District agencies. However, as I’ve seen working for DCPS at the Central Office level, “communication” sounds great in theory, but I think the Council must prioritize ensuring timely and productive communication in practice in this bill. Additionally, I appreciate the focus on leaning on the wisdom and connections of community-based organizations – each ward and neighborhood within those wards have different problems and thus, must have tailored solutions. However, as I’ve seen educating in DC charter schools, ensuring stabilized funding for organizations is important so that they have the time to build out effective systems. As we know, working with people takes time, intention, and sometimes trial and error. Lastly, I appreciate the focus on putting actual folks on the ground to monitor high priority areas because, as I mentioned, I’ve heard from too many students and experienced enough myself to know that actual feet on the ground is a tactic I can see truly working.
In conclusion, I can not say this enough – the DC Council must continue to center the voices and experiences of students, parents, and community members to achieve the best results for our communities. I hope that as the school year continues and new information unfolds, the DC Council will continue to focus its efforts on ensuring our students are safe coming to and from home and school. Prioritizing higher risk areas, schools, safe spots around corridors and libraries and restorative justice practices are incredibly impactful initiatives that I had positive experiences with inside and outside the schools I’ve worked in and sent my son to. I would also implore the Council to uplift the work already being done by so many across the city in community organizations, DCPS and Charter schools – we have foundations that are not always built upon and replicated, but if they are effective, we should continue to invest in them.
Therefore, I urge the DC Council to center, prioritize and ensure funding for community-based organizations to do this difficult work. I hope that the Council will monitor the effectiveness of the programs implemented because we aren’t speaking theoretically when it comes to protecting the lives of children. Thank you for allowing me to testify.
 February-April 2020. Office of the Student Advocate. “Safe Passage: A Student’s Perspective.” Source: https://sboe.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/sboe/Safe%20Passage%20Report%20SY%202019-20%20Final.pdf
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