After school at a Metro station by the author.

Students trying to get to class in DC face violence and a plethora of obstacles and delays—and children, parents, and teachers say that needs to change. On November 14, the DC Education Coalition for Change (DECC) gathered top agency heads for a transportation town hall to investigate ways to make streets safer for kids, and transportation more efficient and reliable.

Elijah Farrier, a student at Ron Brown High School, best articulated the complicated journey some students face taking public transportation to school. Starting as early as 6 am, Farrier’s ride consists of one bus and two trains, or two buses just to make it to school from his home in Southeast. During his commute, he is at the mercy of delayed buses and trains, plus anything else that may happen along the way.

Elijah Farrier, a student at Ron Brown High School. Image by the author.

Once, an altercation on his bus route broke out. Farrier said he tried to escape, but says “the window couldn’t open wide enough for me to get out.” He was caught in the back of the bus until the police arrived. He ended up missing half of his first-period class.

Farrier said this was not the first time he witnessed fight on this ride to school. “I fear for my safety,” he said. He also takes his younger brother who has autism to school. If he can not attend school, neither can his brother. He asked for a safer and faster alternative to school. And he was not alone in his concerns.

On July 9, 2019 At-Large Councilmember David Grosso introduced the Safe Passage to School Expansion Act, which would create an Office of Safe Passage and provide shuttle buses from Metro stations to schools in areas with the fewest transportation options. For example, the DC Policy Center released a study showing a cluster of eight neighborhoods, most of which were east of the Anacostia River, where at-risk students did not have “easy geographical access” to leveler middle schools.

It also includes a five-year plan of action to create safer streets for kids and a grant program for organizations focused on this issue. It was co-introduced by Councilmembers Robert White, Brianne Nadeau, Mary Cheh, Brandon Todd, and Trayon White.

Paul Kihn, Everett Lott, Jim Hamre, and Noah Abraham speak on the DECC panel. Image by the author.

Local transportation and city agency leaders spoke on a panel at the event, including Paul Kihn, DC’s Deputy Mayor of Education; Everett Lott, Deputy Director of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT); Jim Hamre, Director of the Office for Metrobus Planning, Scheduling and Customer facilities; and Noah Abraham, Deputy Administrator, Families Division-Family Office of Human Services.

DECC moderators asked each agency leader if they would commit to policy actions like increasing the frequency of buses running during school hours, expanding DC’s Safe Passage pilot for kids, and assisting DECC with getting shuttle service to Metro stations started for students living in temporary shelters and hotels. The organization wants help creating an accurate budget estimate so it can advocate for and work to provide the shuttle service.

Agency leaders were supportive: “Students’ safety and transporting students safety from their homes to their schools is a priority of my office,” Kihn said during the discussion with the audience.

DC already has a suite of services and pilots to help kids get to school safely, like the Kids Ride Free program, which provides SmarTrip cards to students for use during school hours, and the Safe Passage pilot, which was launched around the beginning of this school year. About 20 local businesses in the Anacostia and Congress Heights area are designated safe spots for kids to go inside if they feel unsafe.

According to a WAMU/Guns & America report, between 2016 and 2017, about 177 of the 186 shootings that happened in DC occurred less than 1,000 feet from a school. Kihn said that through informal surveys, some business owners noted that students have already used their shops as a refuge. “So we think this is a very, very promising idea, and we currently have plans to roll it out to two more safe passage areas,” Kihn said.

Safe spots in Anacoatia. Image by

Maria McLemore, a teacher at Cardozo High School and a DECC co-chair, thinks the town hall was positive.

“I’m totally excited about working with all of them,” McLemore said of the panelists. “I think all of our elected officials came to the table with great responses and commitments to our policy agenda. Now it’s time for us as a community to hold them accountable to the things that they committed to. So it’s going to take collective action for all of us to continue this work that we’ve started.”

A hearing for the Safe Passage to School Expansion Act 2019 is taking place on Monday, November 25 during the DC Council’s Transportation & the Environment Public Hearing.

George Kevin Jordan was GGWash's Editor-in-Chief. He is a proud resident of Hillcrest in DC's Ward 7. He was born and raised in Milwaukee and has written for many publications, most recently the AFRO and about HIV/AIDS issues for