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The law that may catch up with 'culture of retaliation' in Baltimore City Schools

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BALTIMORE (WBFF) — Has a culture of retaliation against those who speak out taken root in Baltimore City Schools? One local attorney says, yes. But there’s a relatively new law in Maryland that protects public school whistleblowers. The problem is, educators may not know about it.

In July 2018, attorney Corlie McCormick Jr. filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Baltimore City Schools on behalf of former principal Angel Lewis. The suit was made possible by a new law that had taken effect just months earlier.

“The claims were disturbing that I saw from Ms. Lewis,” McCormick told Project Baltimore.

On October 1, 2017, the Public School Employee Whistleblower Protection Act took effect in Maryland. The law protects public school employees from retaliation if they blow the whistle on misconduct such as waste, fraud or abuse. But McCormick said that when Lewis reported issues at her school, Claremont Middle/High in east Baltimore, she was fired

“Instead of trying to correct the issues Ms. Lewis raised, the school board began retaliating against her, which is unfortunate,” McCormick said.

Concerning Lewis’s lawsuit, North Avenue gave Project Baltimore this statement:

City Schools made a determination not to renew the employment of Angel Lewis. Ms. Lewis disagreed and filed litigation against City Schools. It is important to understand that the allegations in any legal complaint are tested through an extensive process to determine whether they can be proved true.

“What has been built is a culture of fear and a culture of compliance,” Lewis told Project Baltimore during an interview in September.

When Lewis arrived at Claremont in 2016, according to her lawsuit, she reported that the school was “cheating on the statewide assessment”, graduating students who were “not eligible to graduate” and had teachers “not qualified to teach”. She also said there were five dead students enrolled at the school when she took over as principal.

“The school board has some significant issues. Some of my clients have spoken about violence in the school, grade changing and some other issues. But the school board has consistently, consistently tried to prevent and withhold information related to those issues, instead of facing them head-on and being transparent,” said McCormick.

Since the Public School Employee Whistleblower Protection Act took effect four years ago, McCormick has filed three lawsuits against City Schools, including Lewis’s case. McCormick expects the number of cases to drastically increase in the coming years, once more teachers and principals realize this law has taken effect.

“We must protect the teachers. We must protect the principals,” McCormick told Project Baltimore. “I definitely believe there is a culture of retaliation in Baltimore City. The laws are starting to catch up to the culture, for certain.”

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