The Fight for Flint Schools

POST BY Rodd Monts Field Director

Given everything that Flint has been through in recent years, the last thing we want to do is beat up on the city’s challenged school district. While some critics may suggest otherwise, the legal action we took last fall aimed at improving conditions in the schools is simply designed to ensure that every child who walks into a classroom, including those who need special-education services, receives the support necessary to thrive.

Every child can learn, with the appropriate supports.  A quality education is perhaps the most valuable resource you can provide to a young person in our community because it is among the most effective tools needed to break the cycle of poverty. This is why, in October, attorneys from the ACLU of Michigan, Education Law Center and the law firm of White & Case filed a lawsuit (D.R. v. Michigan Department of Education). 

To learn more about the case, we invite you to join us on May 23 for an informative forum on our education work in Flint, during which we will both talk about the work currently underway and solicit input from residents about conditions in their schools and their experiences as students, parents and concerned community members. The free event will take place at Saints of God Church, located at 2200 Forest Hill Ave. in Flint, from 6:00 to 8:00 PM, and is open to the public. However, we ask that you RSVP to education@aclumich.org to ensure appropriate seating and refreshments.

In April 2014 , when the state authorized the switch of the city’s water supply to the corrosive water from the Flint River – without the necessary corrosion controls – approximately 15,000 schoolchildren were exposed to dangerously high levels of lead in their home and school, which we pointed out when we filed the lawsuit. In fact, lead levels in Flint Community Schools’ buildings from October 2015 to January 2016 ranged from 61 parts per billion to more than 2,800 parts per billion.  Lead levels have fallen since then as fixtures were replaced and filters were installed but it still remains unstable so that children are still being directed to drink bottled water and bottled water is being used for food preparation. 

The intent of the legal action is to dramatically improve the provision of special education services to children in the traditional public schools of Flint (FCS). Nearly 16 percent of the children enrolled in FCS are eligible for those services. However, prior to the water crisis many parents of district students in special education found resources lacking, and they are now troubled by what they see as a systemic breakdown. This is compounded by the fact that parents of students in general education complain that their children need additional supports or need to be evaluated for special education services and cannot get the help that they need, including help with behaviors.

Our collective action for the city’s children aims to compel FCS, the Genesee Intermediate School District and the Michigan Department of Education to allocate resources, ensure the necessary personnel are in place and the learning environment is both supportive and safe for what is expected to be a student population with various needs resulting from irreversible, long-term harm caused by childhood lead exposure.  Education is an anecdote to support the children inflicted with this neurotoxin.

We want to ensure that access to the appropriate education services is a reality for all students, and ensure their civil rights as called for by federal law.  

We have also fought successfully to get the State of Michigan to provide nearly $100 million to replace lead service lines in 18,000 homes over the next three years, while also monitoring lead levels in water, and safety education program.

Just this week we sent a letter to Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and city council members articulating our support for the imposition of a moratorium on liens being placed on the homes of residents who have been unable to pay exorbitant water bills. Some 8,000 families could lose their homes unless the city takes action to help them.  This should most certainly exacerbate the trauma our city’s children are dealing with, which is another reason the public’s connection to our education work is so important right now.

In year three of the crisis that exposed Flint children to lead-tainted water either in their homes or school – for more than 18 months, we cannot afford for those children to get anything short of full support for their health and education needs. All children can learn, provided they have the resources to do so. Despite anything you hear to the contrary, that is what this critical work is all about.

 

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