Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Suit by homeless students denied class-action status

A U.S. District Court judge has denied class certification of a lawsuit brought by three homeless families against Baltimore City Public Schools, alleging the school system violated the rights of homeless students.

Among other things, the plaintiffs claim they were denied reimbursement for mandatory school uniforms, lacked access to transportation and were “on the verge of being unable to participate in an upcoming class trip.”

But Senior U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz, in a two-page memorandum, said the plaintiffs’ claims “are peculiar to them” and that “nothing in the present record suggests that these claims are typical of claims of other class members.”

Motz also said he would consider administratively closing the case while the two sides use a dispute resolution process required under a federal law that ensures homeless children have access to education.

The dispute-resolution process was developed in spring 2013 with the help of the Public Justice Center Inc., which is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Nearly all the allegations in the lawsuit have been resolved through the appeals process and the remaining claims are pending, according to Leslie R. Stellman, a lawyer for the school system.

“I think [Motz’s ruling] is a validation of the effectiveness of an appeals process the board worked very hard to put in place,” said Stellman, a member of Pessin Katz Law P.A. in Towson.

Monisha Cherayil, the lead attorney with Public Justice’s Education Stability Project, did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit accuses the school system of failing to inform homeless children and their parents of their rights under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act of 2001.

Motz, in the memo issued Monday, said he would defer ruling on BCPS’ motion to dismiss the case until speaking with lawyers on both sides. He ordered a scheduling conference for June 30.

The judge also asked the lawyers to “reestablish a cordial, professional and constructive relationship.” Motz wrote he was “disappointed” with Public Justice’s motion to strike the school system’s motion to dismiss the class-action allegations, because the system was within its rights to file such a motion.

Stellman said Motz also was referring to a BCPS motion to disqualify Public Justice as the class representative based on accusations it mishandled federal funds — a claim Public Justice called an “unsubstantiated suggestion.”

“I think the judge is trying to [improve] the tone of discourse of the parties,” he said.

The case is Pridget et al. v. Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners, et al., 1:13-cv-02784-JFM, U.S. District Court (Baltimore).