August 6, 2021
Over the past year, we were lucky to have Bethany Straus at the PJC as a legal assistant in our Education Stability Project. As a member of Episcopal Service Corps, she contributed to our work to address school pushout and remove police from schools, developing communications in support of advocacy priorities, helping to organize a virtual town hall, and conducting budget research about Maryland’s school police program. Below are a few highlights from Bethany’s year at the PJC.
Throughout the year, Bethany developed communications content in support of the Education Stability Project’s advocacy to reimagine school safety and address exclusionary school discipline practices. She organized a social media campaign on the need to remove police from schools as part of the National Week of Action Against School Pushout. To educate and mobilize Marylanders in support of legislation for police-free schools, she created action alerts and social media posts, including live-tweeting hearings in the House Ways and Means Committee. Bethany also drew on current events and other days of importance to amplify the movement for police-free schools.
In December, Bethany helped plan a virtual town hall in coordination with the Coalition to Reform School Discipline and the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability. The town hall previewed the Counselors Not Cops Act and the Police-Free Schools Act, bills which sought to reduce or remove police presence in public schools and redirect state funds allocated for school policing towards expanded student mental health services, restorative justice, and wraparound supports. The event featured five students and parents who had been directly and adversely impacted by police presence in public schools in Prince George’s County, Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, and Montgomery County. Panelists also included PJC attorney Monisha Cherayil and bill sponsors Delegates Jheanelle Wilkins and Gabriel Acevero. Bethany handled logistics and follow-up, including inviting students and parents to speak, managing the event page and Zoom platform, communicating with event attendees, and developing communications to involve attendees in legislative advocacy following the event.
Bethany also conducted research on school police budgets in Maryland, gathering information that informed state legislative efforts. She sent Public Information Act requests to law enforcement agencies asking whether they place police in their local school districts, as well as for information on the salaries of school police officers, their budget allocation for their school police program, and their actual spending on the program. With this information, the PJC Education Stability team worked with Maryland Center on Economic Policy to calculate state spending on school police programs and determine how that money could be better spent on counselors, school psychologists, and other mental health professionals to benefit students. The data gleaned from this research helped inform our advocacy to reimagine school safety.
We are grateful for Bethany’s contributions to the PJC and wish her well as she builds a career in nonprofit communications.