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Judge could order Flint Public Schools to screen all kids for disabilities

Bilal Tawwab, the superintendent of the Flint Community School District: "Right now, we are putting systems in place so that we're able to meet the needs of all of our children."
Flint Community School District
Flint schoolchildren

A federal district judge assigned to the ACLU's lawsuit over inadequate special education for Flint schoolchildren says he's "leaning" towards siding with the ACLU. 

The lawsuit claims Flint kids aren't getting screened for disabilities that could be linked to lead poisoning, and even children whose disability is known to the school district are not getting the special education help they need to succeed.

Plaintiff Nakiya Wakes says her son Jaylon Tyson has attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, which she believes was caused by 18 months of drinking the city's lead-tainted water.  She eventually took him out of Flint Public Schools because he wasn't safe.  

"He was put in restraints - left marks on him - until he cried," says Wakes.  "And he was also punished for behaviors related to his disability."

Now, Tyson takes classes at home, online.

The ACLU wants Flint Public Schools, the Genesee Intermediate School District, and the Michigan Department of Education to screen every pre-and school age child in Flint for disabilities and provide appropriate services. 

That screening should include neurological and other medical testing, says the ACLU, since just testing for blood lead levels is inadequate (lead leaves the blood after a few months).  The ACLU also wants the testing to include students who go to charter schools in Flint, because the Genesee Intermediate School District and the Michigan Department of Education oversee those schools too.

Attorneys for the school district and Michigan Department of Education argue the parent of each child with a disability must exhaust administrative remedies, according to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act.  

The ACLU says IDEA allows for exceptions when such individual actions would be "futile," because of the scope of the problem.

Ultimately, should the judge order it, the state legislature would likely have to come up with funds to pay for testing and additional resources for special education in Flint, since the Flint Public Schools and Genesee Intermediate School District don't have the money.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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