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Civil Rights Lawyer Ben Crump Joins Lawsuit Against Baltimore City Public Schools

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who has represented the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other people killed by police, has joined a lawsuit against Baltimore City Public Schools seeking court control of the school system.

Crump, who has offices in Florida, California and Washington D.C., said he signed onto the lawsuit filed earlier this year to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline for Black and brown children, noting what he called a "symbiotic relationship" between the schools and the courts.

"If we can prevent children from being lost within the education system, we can prevent them from becoming disproportionately over-represented in the criminal justice system," he said.

Local attorney Scott Marder filed the lawsuit in January on behalf of Jovani Patterson, who previously ran for City Council president as a Republican, and his wife Shawnda.

Reginald Benbow, a Democrat running for a seat in House of Delegates District 43 A, and two candidates for at-large seats on the Baltimore City school board, April Curley and Karen Yosafat Beleck, appeared at a press conference Wednesday to offer their support for the lawsuit.

Marder said Wednesday the legal challenge takes a novel approach by going after the alleged shortcomings of the school system from the perspective of the taxpayer, rather than a student or parent.

He said the plaintiffs are not seeking financial damages but to have court oversight, pointing to low reading proficiency scores, social promotion and a recent state audit that found more than 12,500 grades were changed from failing to passing at Baltimore high schools as just some of the problems plaguing North Avenue.

"You don't graduate kids who can't read and write," he said. "You don't pass people from one grade to another when they haven't met the requirements to do that."

Crump said he looks at the case in Baltimore as a litmus test for similar legal actions against other school districts around the country. He likened it to Thurgood Marshall's fight in the U.S. Supreme Court case that ultimately desegregated schools, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

"You want to say, 'How can we all come together? Let's quit drawing lines in the sand and let's step over those lines for our children,'" he said.

On Wednesday evening, Baltimore City Public Schools reacted to Crump's decision to join the lawsuit by issuing a statement.

"City Schools has a pending motion to dismiss the Pattersons' lawsuit based on clear, legal grounds," the statement reads. "Our motion papers are publicly accessible. We remain steadfastly dedicated to providing a quality education to all students. The plaintiffs' lawsuit ignores that there is a robust local, state, and federal infrastructure to handle these types of claims. This matter of law will be decided in a court of law."

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