Special Education

Flint’s Special Education Students Win Support, Compensation in Landmark Settlement

By Corey Mitchell — August 20, 2020 2 min read
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As part of a legal settlement in a class action lawsuit, the state of Michigan plans to establish a $9 million special education fund to improve education for children affected by the Flint water crisis.

The money, part of a $600 million settlement announced Thursday by the state, will be used to strengthen services and supports for Flint children who were harmed by lead poisoning and fund improvements for special education services to all students with disabilities in public schools in Flint and Genesee County.

Education Week reported last August that the percentage of special education students in the Flint schools has more than doubled since the water crisis began—and explored why the percentage of special education students could continue to rise as more children born during the water crisis begin to enroll in the city’s schools. Currently, one in four students in the Flint schools is eligible for special education services.

Flint families drank, bathed, and cooked in their homes with the water for 17 months before the problem was discovered and the water supply was shut off. The contamination occurred when the cash-strapped city, under the direction of a state-appointed manager, switched its water supply from Lake Huron to cut costs.

Research has linked lead toxicity to learning disabilities, poor classroom performance, and increased aggression.

In the federal lawsuit filed in 2016, attorneys from the ACLU Fund of Michigan, the Education Law Center, and the White & Case law firm allege that the Michigan Department of Education, the Genesee Intermediate School District, and the Flint schools failed to provide adequate financial and staffing resources and support to help Flint schoolchildren meet the challenges they were facing in getting special education services.

Under the agreement, nearly 80 percent of the settlement would be paid to children who were younger than 18 in 2014 and 2015 when they were first exposed to water from the Flint River that contained elevated levels of lead and bacteria. More than half of that amount will go toward children who were younger than 6 and faced the greatest risk for lead poisoning.

The intermediate school district, which oversees special education services in Flint and other county school districts, will also pay for $1 million in staff and services for the Flint schools for the coming school year and fund $1 million for countywide special education transportation.

Photo Credit: Ebony Dixon, center, said she is struggling to get special education for her daughter, Alexus Smith and her son, Torea Gibson in Flint, Mich.--Brittany Greeson for Education Week

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.