How can a state that poisoned its children with leaded water, now put roadblocks in their way to get the special education services they need to improve their lives?
There can be no denying that what happened in Flint impacts education and public schools there. Families need support.
We should be getting ongoing reports from our education secretary about how the country is helping the children of Flint overcome such a disaster.
Instead, we have to climb over this question first. How could a President choose a woman to be education secretary who actually had ties to the Flint water crisis?
In “How Donald Trump is Connected to the Flint Water Crisis,” Ryan Schleeter wrote on the Greenpeace blog last November:
Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, and her family have a long history of using their wealth to manipulate Michigan state elections and push through “reforms” that undercut local democracy. She’s a staunch advocate of privatization measures that shift power from people to corporations — and one of those measures led directly to the poisoning of Flint’s water and citizens.
He goes on to describe more thoroughly how the Devos Family was connected to the outsourcing of the city of Pontiac’s water system to a company indicted on federal conspiracy charges and Clean Water Act violations.
Perhaps that’s why, other than profiting on boxed water, Betsy DeVos has done nothing–provided no solutions to the education problems there.
Last October, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Education Law Center in New Jersey, and the New York-based law firm White & Case, filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Education, Flint Community Schools and Genesee Intermediate School District due to lacking special education services for the children in Flint.
Governor Snyder’s education goals for Flint never mention the words special education. Yet, sixteen percent of more than 5,400 school children in Flint qualify for services.
According to the Flint Lawsuit Fact Sheet, local and state school authorities have failed to provide children with a free, appropriate public education.
Many schools are unsafe.
Between 2014 and 2015, students in Flint Community Schools special education were suspended five times more than special education students nationwide.
Children poisoned by lead, who act out or have difficulty comprehending their school work, need special services. They require dedicated, qualified teachers who understand the underlying problems children face in the classroom.
Poor Schools Can’t Do It Alone
Schools already dealing with poverty lack the capacity to provide proper instruction and resources, especially with problems that are tied to lead poisoning. Already there have been plenty of concerns.
- An eight year old placed in handcuffs due to kicking a cart.
- A seven year old with ADHD and lead exposure suspended 50 times between 2015 and 2016 due to behavior problems.
- A child having a life threatening reaction to shellfish without immediate attention.
One of the plaintiffs in the case describes poor treatment of her child in the public school.
He was put in restraints–left marks on him–until he cried. And he was also punished for behaviors related to his disability.
She took him out of school and now he gets his schooling online.
How Can They Deny Children What is Rightfully Theirs?
The lawsuit’s 130-page complaint alleges violations of federal civil rights laws. The complaints involve the Disabilities Education Improvement Act, Rehabilitation Act and American with Disabilities Act.
Parents want relief, not monetary damages.
State and local officials claim the case should be tossed out because parents need to go through administrative avenues and they claim the lawsuit doesn’t make a case that they systematically violated a students’ civil rights. There are 30,000 children and only a few parents complaining they say.
Yet, every parent of a child who requires special education knows how difficult it is to beg school administrators for services that should already be in place for their child. Such complaints can go on for years. Most families cannot afford legal representation.
Screening is only part of what’s needed.
Last week a federal district judge assigned to this case appears to be for screening and claims to be leaning in favor of the plaintiffs. Certainly, testing children to determine the extent of their disabilities is called for, but let’s hope the resources to adequately address the needed support will also be required.
As schools struggle to survive in Flint, will more parents take their children home and plug them in to a computer? This kind of education will not be sufficient.
Everyone needs to keep an eye on the winter wonderland state. I love Michigan. Like Betsy DeVos, it’s my home state too. I learned to be a special education teacher there.
Flint kids and families deserve better—a whole lot better.
Additional writings (links) about the seriousness of lead poisoning to health and school achievement.