Class-Action Lawsuit Seeks Justice for At-Risk Children of Flint

"Now more than ever, families have the right to expect that the public education system will address their children's special education needs," one attorney said. (Photo: AP/Andrew Harnik)

Class-Action Lawsuit Seeks Justice for At-Risk Children of Flint

'There must be responsibility to do everything humanly possible to mitigate the damage done to the residents of Flint—especially its children.'

A class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday seeks justice for the children of Flint, Michigan, who are suffering the effects of months of drinking lead-contaminated tap water while also not receiving adequate special education services in the city's public schools, the suit alleges.

"The extensive lead poisoning in Flint has combined with the lack of essential special education resources in the Flint schools to create a tragic crisis," Gregory Little, a partner at White & Case and a board member of the Education Law Center, told the Detroit News. "By insisting on a positive learning environment for all students, this lawsuit will help all children and families in Flint."

The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan and the Education Law Center, alleges that the state is violating disability laws by not providing adequate special education services for children in Flint, even as exposure to lead has meant more children in Flint require such services.

Almost 30,000 Flint schoolchildren, from birth to age 19, were exposed to lead in the tap water at home and at school after officials switched the city's water supply to the corrosive Flint River in April 2014, the suit argues.

"Providing an adequate education to the children of Flint was already an uphill challenge before this crisis hit," notes the ACLU's Curt Guyette. "The school district is laboring under the burden of a $10 million deficit. Teachers are doing their best, but some classes have as many as 40 students in them. In a city rife with poverty, children were already being forced to overcome too much."

"The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan, argues that the public school system in Flint is not meeting its legal obligation to screen lead-exposed children for disabilities or provide services and interventions that could make a difference in their ability to learn and thrive," reports the Washington Post. "It also alleges that the Michigan Education Department has failed to provide Flint schools [...] with the resources and funding they need to provide those services."

"The lawsuit seeks class-action status, injunctive relief and immediate remedies on behalf of thousands of Flint families[...] It does not seek monetary damages," according to the Detroit News, which goes on to detail one mother's experience with the Flint public school system:

Nakiya Wakes, mother of a plaintiff in the lawsuit, a 7-year old boy who has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, said there is no plan and no program to educate her child.

"All they do is send him home, with no services and no support," Wakes said.

During the 2015-16 school year, while attending a charter school in Flint, Wakes' son was suspended from school more than 50 times.

"I know my son can learn," Wakes said. "But he can't learn when he's not in school, with no resources for him to make up the school work he's missed."

Jessica Levin, staff attorney at the Education Law Center, told the Detroit News: "The government's own actions in exposing the community to elevated lead levels has put every child at risk. Now more than ever, families have the right to expect that the public education system will address their children's special education needs."

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