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Flint, MI— Flint Community Schools may be receiving over $1.2 million for special education transportation costs, special education staffing, and other, non-monetary supplemental support from the Genesee Intermediate School District as part of a class-action lawsuit settlement.
The lawsuit was filed in 2016 by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Education Law Center against the Michigan Department of Education, the GISD, and FCS alleging all three parties violated the rights of students to receive special education services during and after the Flint Water Crisis.
It argues that, despite knowledge of lead and its effect on children, the MDE, the GISD and FCS “systematically failed to provide accommodations to ensure a free, appropriate public education to the current caseload of special education students in Flint.”
The settlement agreement also allocates $9 million of a $641.25 million water crisis settlement to establish a fund known as the Flint Water Crisis Special Education Fund.
The $9 million will be doled out among all school districts by the GISD over the next few years to benefit children with special needs who were impacted by lead poisoning. This includes children who have moved out of Flint.
“The innovation of (the lawsuit) was to recognize that the public health crisis in Flint that was caused when Flint was switched to lead-contaminated water was also an educational crisis. And that because there’s no medical intervention that can completely counter the effects of lead poisoning education really is the answer, and it needs to be an integral part of the response to the Flint water crisis,” said Lindsay Heck, lead attorney from White & Case LLP, a law firm representing the Flint plaintiffs pro bono.
As a class-action suit, plaintiffs include “all present and future children, ages three through 26” who:
- Resided in the City of Flint on or after April 2014 up until December 31, 2018
- Were on the City of Flint Water Supply on or after April 2014 up until December 31, 2018
- Were impacted by the Flint Water Crisis, and who require special education and related services
Final terms of the settlement pend court approval, which will be conducted during a public fairness hearing on April 12, 2021.
Below is a summary of the proposed settlement terms.
$9 million of the Flint Water Crisis Settlement will go toward special education programs in Flint and Genesee County
The Flint Water Crisis Special Education Fund must be “used to strengthen the services and supports that students with disabilities receive in school.”
“The Genesee Intermediate School District has tracked where these students have moved who were living on the Flint water supply at the time of crisis and where students have gone,” Heck said.
The GISD will also be required to provide quarterly reports, prepared by a third party, which include, at minimum, “how funds have been used by category, and to which districts or public-school academies the funds have been distributed.”
All parties are still determining how the funds will be distributed but have agreed to come to a decision by May 1.
Supplemental GISD assistance to FCS and constituent districts impacted by the water crisis
The GISD has agreed to provide the below monetary assistance for special education:
- For the 2020-21 academic year, the GISD will provide $1 million to offset the costs of special education transportation for Flint Schools as well its constituent districts
- For the 2020-21 academic year, the GISD will provide FCS, at a minimum, staff and services totaling $1.2 million for positions such as special education consultants, occupational and physical therapists, literacy partnership coaches, math partnership coaches, and McKinney Vento liaisons.
- The GISD will provide training, professional development, and other technical assistance to support FCS’s implementation of special education programs and its budget
Modification of GISD Special Education Mandatory Plan
The GISD Mandatory Plan allocates $3.8 million dollars of Act 18 Millage Funds to local districts for special education reimbursement. GISD distributes the money between its 21 districts and 15 charter schools.
While the State of Michigan has already ordered the GISD change its special education funding formula, the settlement requires the GISD to review the plan. The GISD must:
- Evaluate “the delivery of special education programs and services designed to meet the individual needs of each student with a disability”
- Pursue a millage increase and to make every effort to “explain to voters the need for the increase to secure voter approval”
- Submit the proposed plan to the plaintiffs for review before submitting to the MDE
The GISD must continue to provide high-quality preschool programs for children ages three and four within the City of Flint. They will hire a third-party education research entity to conduct a comprehensive assessment study of the need for high quality preschool in Flint. This means determining the “universe,” or all those eligible, of three- and four-year olds living in Flint; assessing staffing needs; reviewing the quality of existing programs; and establishing a plan for funding, parent outreach, and other “relevant” factors.
Continue the implementation of earlier partial settlement
A $4 million partial settlement was reached in April 2018 that forced the state to establish a Neurodevelopmental Center of Excellence in Flint. The center provides state-of-the-art testing “that is uniquely calibrated to detect lead’s impact on the brain,” Heck said.
Testing is free to parents and their children.
“We are extremely happy with this settlement and hopeful that it will really transform Flint Community Schools as well as other schools that children who were on the water supply have since moved to,” Heck said.
The fairness hearing will be conducted virtually on April 12, 2021 at 2:30 p.m. EST and is open to the public. Plantiffs who have filed objections prior April 5 will be permitted to speak.
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