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Animals display selective escape behaviors when faced with environmental threats. Selection of the appropriate response by the underlying neuronal network is key to maximizing chances of survival, yet the underlying network mechanisms are so far not fully understood. Using synapse-level reconstruction of the Drosophila larval network paired with physiological and behavioral readouts, we uncovered a circuit that gates selective escape behavior for noxious light through acute and input-specific neuropeptide action. Sensory neurons required for avoidance of noxious light and escape in response to harsh touch, each converge on discrete domains of neuromodulatory hub neurons. We show that acute release of hub neuron-derived insulin-like peptide 7 (Ilp7) and cognate relaxin family receptor (Lgr4) signaling in downstream neurons are required for noxious light avoidance, but not harsh touch responses. Our work highlights a role for compartmentalized circuit organization and neuropeptide release from regulatory hubs, acting as central circuit elements gating escape responses.