Get the Lead Out
Most of us have read about the lead in Flint Michigan schools when the city decided to save money by switching its water source from one of the Great Lakes to a local source that allowed lead to leach into the city’s water supply. The full extent of the damage to Flint children is still not known.
Here is what is known. Four years after the crisis was discovered, one in five students in Flint public schools is eligible for special education. The Superintendent has stated that 28% of Flint students have disabilities that warrant an IEP. That is more than double the national average. The school system is buckling under the cost of providing services and meeting federal requirements for children with disabilities.
While Flint may be best known of cities with lead in the drinking water, it is not alone. Many other urban areas are using water facilities with lead pipes that are old and leaching into drinking water. The situation may foreshadow issues that will be showing up in other older urban areas.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the Education Law Center and the New York-based firm of Case & White have joined to represent Flint families suing the school system, the Michigan State Department of Education and the Genesee County Intermediate School District alleging failure to meet the needs of special education students. Families with the resources to do so, have moved out of town. Leaving behind people who are disproportionately poor and in need of support services. The district is unable to recruit and retain special education teachers. It has resorted to using long term substitutes just to put a body in the classroom. As many as 25% of the classrooms are staffed with temporary people. It is going to take a great deal more money to provide these children with an appropriate education but the fact remains, all of the education in the world isn’t going to fix the cognitive damage to these children who will become cognitively damaged adults, more dependent on taxpayer support.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 98,000 public schools and half-million child care facilities are NOT regulated as to the amount of lead in the water. In fact, there is no federal policy that mandates lead testing in schools. Maryland has recently required all public-funded schools to submit water samples from multiple drinking fountains and faucets throughout the school. The state health department is evaluating the samples for lead levels shutting down those water supply areas that don’t pass the test. In Baltimore City, multiple schools provide bottled water to students because the fountains are unsafe. Get the lead out means more than get moving. We need to get moving before more kids are brain damaged by our neglect.