A former Republican candidate for City Council president and a former city school teacher have filed a lawsuit against Baltimore City and its public school system for what they describe as a sweeping failure to provide an adequate public education, wasting public funds and defrauding taxpayers in the process.
Jovani and Shawnda Patterson, who live in Baltimore’s Mount Holly neighborhood, filed the suit Wednesday in Baltimore City Circuit Court alleging that city residents received “no benefit” from a school system that “completely fails to perform its most important function” of educating children.
The couple say they have one child, who is not named in the suit, enrolled in the city school system.
The complaint points to poor student performance in city schools and describes a “pattern” of enrollment and grading scandals in recent years. And it accuses the school system of making false entries in public records, racketeering, mail fraud, theft and embezzlement.
“Simply put, the School System is failing to teach its students basic skills each year, then giving up and advancing them without equipping them with the knowledge needed to succeed at the next grade level,” the complaint states.
City schools representative Gwendolyn Chambers said system officials will review the complaint and respond appropriately once it is received.
City spokesman James Bentley responded to the lawsuit in an email Thursday: “The Mayor and his administration care deeply about education in Baltimore City. They have made it a priority to ensure that all students can succeed both inside the classroom and beyond. As to this lawsuit, we will review it and respond, in court, properly.”
The couple is represented by Scott Marder of the Baltimore-based Thomas & Libowitz law firm. Plaintiff Jovani Patterson recently ran for Baltimore City Council president on the Republican ticket during the 2020 election, losing to Democrat Nick Mosby. Shawnda Patterson is a former Baltimore City teacher.
Lawsuits to reform education systems typically appear in federal courts because they hinge on a student’s constitutional right to education. The Pattersons, notably, have filed the lawsuit in a local court and do not reference any personal experiences with the school system in their complaint.
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Federal complaints concerning public education, Marder said, have failed to bring about necessary change, which is why the couple is bringing the case as taxpayers.
At a news conference Thursday, the plaintiffs and their attorney stood outside of the school system’s North Avenue headquarters and described how decades of city leadership have failed to bring about change.
“We, the taxpayers, are funding our own demise when we’re seeing a failing school system that is essentially, systematically pumping out unprepared citizens,” Jovani Patterson said.
The lawsuit contends that the school system’s “abysmal performance” may lead to a greater probability of crime, which also likely increases the burden on taxpayers.
The complaint refers extensively to local media coverage from The Baltimore Sun and other outlets of the Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts, where a former principal and three other principals were found to have inflated enrollment, fabricated courses and improperly approved students for graduation. The city school system launched an investigation into the scheme after officials found grading irregularities and attendance issues during the summer of 2019.
The system’s investigative report later noted an ongoing review by the Maryland Office of Inspector General for Education.
Investigator Richard Henry declined Thursday to comment on ongoing investigations, but said that his office is “looking at all schools in Baltimore City.”