In May 2019, two men were shot 400 feet away from Harriet Tubman Elementary School in Columbia Heights.

In May 2019, two men were shot 400 feet away from Harriet Tubman Elementary School in Columbia Heights.

Earlier this year, Guns & America analyzed shootings near D.C. schools, finding that “at least 84 school campuses … experienced one or more gunshots within 1,000 feet of their campus during the school day in the 2016-2017 school year.”

In response to concerns over student safety, the mayor’s office is adding new initiatives to the District’s Safe Passage program, an effort created in 2017 to help keep students safe on their commutes to and from school. Among them: a partnership with local businesses to create “safe spots” for students on their way to school, and an app to help coordinate carpools.

We hear the latest from DCist reporter Natalie Delgadillo.

Produced by Monna Kashfi



  • 12:00:04

    KOJO NNAMDIYou tuned in to the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast a look at underground and DIY culture in this region, but first many students across the region and here in the districts headed back to school yesterday, and although it's an exciting time for most families, parents also have to grapple with what has become a tragic reality in many communities concerns about gun violence in and around schools. On Friday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and school officials announced the expansion of the city's Safe Passage initiative, a series of programs meant to make students feel safer as they commute to and from school each day. Joining me now with the latest is Natalie Delgadillo. She is a Staff Writer at DCist. Natalie, good to see you.

  • 12:00:47


  • 12:00:48

    NNAMDIWhat more would you like to see the city and school officials do to safeguard children in and around schools? Natalie, what is the Safe Passage program and how long has it been in place?

  • 12:00:58

    DELGADILLOSo the Safe Passage program started I believe around 2017. It's basically made up of a working group from a bunch of agencies in the executive office of the mayor. I believe there are members from the Office of the Student Advocate, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education, DCPS, the Charter School Board, organizations like that and they have all come together to sort of devise strategies to help students feel safer on their commutes to and from school. There have been different sort of initiatives in the approximately two years that it's been in effect. They've had social media campaigns in the past and they've had community surveys trying to figure out from the community directly what do students need, what makes them feel unsafe and how can they feel safer.

  • 12:01:45

    NNAMDIThe Safe Passage programs is going to focus on six priority areas this school year. It's my understanding. What are those areas?

  • 12:01:52

    DELGADILLOYeah. So the Safe Passage program started out with six priority areas. So those areas are Anacostia Metro Station, the Minnesota Avenue Metro Station, the L'Enfant Plaza Metro Station, NoMa-Gallaudet Metro Station, the Good Hope Road southeast corridor at Congress Heights. And also this year they're adding another priority area around the Columbia Heights Metro Station. So there are seven total now.

  • 12:02:19

    NNAMDISo the mayor announced a handful of new initiatives as part of the Safe Passage expansion last week. Let's go through them. First what are safe spots?

  • 12:02:29

    DELGADILLOSo safe spots are the initiative that the mayor was sort of putting up a forefront of her announcement yesterday -- last week -- Forgive me. And it's basically a partnership with several businesses, government buildings and faith based organizations that are located along corridors where lots of students commute to and from school in different neighborhoods. So far, it's I believe 23 different organizations that have signed up to be a part of the program. And basically what they're signing up to do is put a sign in their window that says "Safe Spot" and that sign signifies to students commuting to and from school along that corridor that if they feel unsafe for any reason they can enter that building and they'll be given a phone to use to either call a family member, a friend or the police.

  • 12:03:18

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. Now that the school year is on the way, are you talking with your children about gun violence? How do you approach the conversation with young children? Natalie, there's also an app that's being rolled out. Tell us about the Live Safe app.

  • 12:03:34

    DELGADILLOThat's right. Yeah, so they're doing a pilot program with this app that exists outside of the D.C. Safe Passage program. Just so everyone knows. And it's going to be a pilot at I believe 20 schools this year. And students are able to use the app to send emergency alerts. They can send their location to friends or family. They can make reports to the police. And there's also like a map available in the app where students can go and flag potential areas of concern -- safety concern.

  • 12:04:05

    NNAMDIThe District is also partnering with the website called Carpool To School. What's that all about?

  • 12:04:10

    DELGADILLOSo it's essentially an online platform that school administrators would manage and it's being rolled out in a pilot form, I believe, at 10 public schools and public charter schools this year. And school administrators would manage the app itself, and parents could use it to organize carpools, bike pools, walk pools to and from school. It's not like a ride hailing app exactly, but it basically helps parents.

  • 12:04:42

    NNAMDIYeah. I think we need to clarify that it's not a ride sharing or a ride hailing app. Give our listeners some context on why students' safety near school buildings is a concern. What does the data show as far as shootings near schools in the District?

  • 12:04:57

    DELGADILLOSo it's not good. The data that we do have shows in the 2016-2017 school year, where we have full data, there were a 177 shootings within 1,000 feet of a school in the District. And that's according to research by Guns & America, a reporting project that's hosted here at WAMU. So of those 1,000 shootings 84 schools saw a shooting near their campus that year in the District. And five of those schools most of which were elementary schools saw 10 or more shootings near campus.

  • 12:05:31

    NNAMDICity officials have said that the ideas for these new initiatives come from feedback that they have received from hundreds of students what would they need to feel safer on their commutes. What kind of concerns have the students been sharing?

  • 12:05:44

    DELGADILLOI don't know exactly what the city has been hearing, but there have been a lot of reports coming out, you know, really excellent reporting coming out of The Washington Post. Their education reporter Perry Stein has done a couple of great stories around how unsafe students feel when they're walking to and from school. You know, there have been several reports of students that are sort of the victim of random violence and that a stray bullet might hit them while they're on their way to and from school. But it also is a problem when fights or conflicts that begin on campus then become violent on the commute to or from school. So that makes Metro stations a particular concern, which is why Metro stations are mainly -- you know, most of the priority areas outlined in the mayor's Safe Passage program are around Metro stations.

  • 12:06:35

    NNAMDIBut I also remember when we did our Kojo Roadshow last year east of the river and students came and expressed those identical concerns. And that was, as I said, in 2018. And so it's not only the Metro stations, but the idea of the safe spots, because just in case there's a kid whose walking home from school and feels threatened in some way or the other then at least that kid can go in to some place where they can get that phone and feel a little safer. The District does not have a school bus system as such except for students with special education needs. And so students often have to rely on public transportation to commute to school. Some of these trips take longer than an hour. Are there any plans to change transportation options for students in the District?

  • 12:07:20

    DELGADILLONo concrete plans just yet. So like you said, you know, we only provide school buses to about 3,000 students in the District, who have special education needs. The 95,000 other public school students have to walk or, you know, rely on public transit. And D.C. in particular, you know, a lot of kids don't go to their neighborhood school here. So their commute could be an hour or loner. One thing that is in the works potentially is a bill by at-large Councilmember David Grosso. He's introduced a bill around Safe Passage to school as well, and part of what that bill would do is require the mayor to provide shuttle service from certain Metro stations to certain schools.

  • 12:08:05

    NNAMDIThere's also some talk about establishing an Office of Safe Passage in the District. What would that office do and where's the Council in that process?

  • 12:08:14

    DELGADILLOSo the Council is still considering that bill. I believe it's in Committee at this point, but I don't know that there's been actual forward movement. And it's extremely vague really what that Office of Safe Passage would do. And how it would be different from what the mayor's working group does. I think that they would have to figure that out and, of course, at the legislation.

  • 12:08:38

    NNAMDIAnd that's a part of the Safe Passage to school expansion act of 2019.

  • 12:08:42

    DELGADILLOThat's right.

  • 12:08:43

    NNAMDICouncilmember David Grosso has introduced. Okay, we'll have to see what happens with that. Natalie, thank you so much.

  • 12:08:48

    DELGADILLOThanks, Kojo.

  • 12:08:49

    NNAMDINatalie Delgadillo is a Staff Writer here at DCist. We're going to take a short break. When we come back a look at underground and DIY culture in this region. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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