In a ruling issued today, U.S. District Court Judge Arthur J. Tarnow allowed a lawsuit to proceed, which contends that state and local school authorities are violating federal education laws by failing to ensure that children in Flint exposed to high levels of lead receive an appropriate public education.
Read the opinion
Attorneys for the ACLU of Michigan, Education Law Center, and the law firm White & Case argued on behalf of the city’s children that the Flint public schools must overhaul their procedures and need additional resources to provide students affected by exposure to lead a meaningful opportunity to succeed in school.
“We know the Flint water crisis is not over because thousands of children have not been evaluated for disabilities. Congress passed laws to make sure that children with special needs have a right to learn. This couldn’t be more important than in Flint where so many children were poisoned by lead in the water,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director at the ACLU of Michigan. “Today, the court has given Flint children a chance by ruling that they deserve, at the very least, an opportunity to show that they have not yet received the services to which they are entitled under federal law and how they can and should be helped with sufficient state and local intervention.”
The defendants in the case, the Michigan Department of Education, the Genesee Intermediate School District and Flint Community Schools, had asked for the suit to be dismissed. In his 26-page opinion today, Judge Tarnow denied the defendants’ motions and permitted the lawsuit to proceed writing:
“It is clear from Plaintiffs’ complaint that the remedy they are seeking is a systemic change in the very way that Defendants identify, place, and educate all children in the Flint School District… Further, the representative Plaintiffs have emphatically illustrated that the alleged violations are widespread across the Flint schools and repetitive in nature.”
“This was an important hurdle to overcome,” said Greg Little, chief trial counsel at the Education Law Center. “We are eager to proceed to the merits of the case, which are strong. Flint already has a significant number of students with special education needs. That number will likely go up due to the effects of lead to which all children in Flint were exposed. It is vital that the local school system be ready to meet their needs. We look forward to ultimately prevailing at trial and bringing well deserved relief to the children of Flint.”
The lawsuit, filed in October 2016, requests specific remedies to allow all children to achieve a meaningful education, including:
Steps to identify the academic and behavioral needs of all Flint students in the FCS school district, including:
- Implementation of positive behavioral interventions, in every school, with training and support to all personnel interacting with students.
- Prevention of unnecessary and illegal suspensions and expulsions.
- Requiring all Flint schools to provide special education services and accommodations for children with disabilities.
- Oversight and monitoring of corrective measures needed to meet the educational needs of all students.
- Convening of a panel of experts to evaluate current special education services in Flint.
- Appointment of a Special Monitor to oversee implementation of the remedies.
“It is unfortunate that it has taken a lawsuit to give us the chance to do what is right by Flint children, like my son Jaylon, who are impacted by lead,” said Nakiya Wakes, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “But we are Flint Strong and will fight on.”