Partial settlement a "win-win" for Flint kids, but lawsuit isn't over yet
The partial settlement of a Flint water crisis lawsuit guarantees all Flint kids can be screened and assessed for effects of lead exposure.
A federal judge in Detroit officially signed off on that agreement Thursday. The case now moves on to a second phase, where the plaintiffs will wrangle with the state and Flint schools over what special services and resources lead-exposed kids are entitled to.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of Flint kids whose families say they suffer from behavioral and developmental problems caused by lead exposure. This partial settlement now guarantees Flint children access to universal screening and evaluation for the effects of lead on behavior and development.
“This is maybe the best program in the country for finding kids that may have special needs and special issues, and we’re going to take it to the next level,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Greg Little of the Education Law Center.
Initial screenings will be conducted by the Flint Lead Exposure Registry. Little says the exact process is still in the works, but it will involve in-depth evaluations that go far beyond measuring blood lead levels.
“There’s an initial screening, but if that screening is positive, they’re going to have available to them tests like neuropsychological exams, which are the best tests available,” Little said. “And we’re very proud of that.”
Subsequent evaluations for kids found to be suffering from lead exposure will be conducted at the Neurodevelopmental Center of Excellence at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center.
Little says the question of what happens after that is the subject of the next phase of this lawsuit. “The next step will be making sure that programs and services for kids are going to be available,” Little said. “And we’re committed to making sure that happens.”
In court Thursday, Little pushed Judge Arthur Tarnow to set an “aggressive” trial date later in 2018 to move the settlement process along, noting that Tarnow’s earlier rulings set timetables that pushed the two sides to reach the partial settlement. Tarnow declined to do that immediately, saying he would issue a potential trial date later.
ACLU attorney Kristin Totten, who also represented plaintiffs in the case, says it’s important for those services to be comprehensive and appropriate. She says that too many lead-impacted kids have been subject to aggressive school discipline or isolated in special education programs that don’t address their true needs.
“We want to make sure that they have the resources that they need, and that there’s a targeted awareness as to what they need, given the burden and the barriers that they have had so far,” Totten said.
Michigan Assistant Attorney General Richard Kuhl agreed the partial settlement is a “win-win for all sides” of the case, he noted the state Department of Education and the other defendants, Flint Community Schools and the Genesee Intermediate School District, “strongly contest” the remaining claims in the case.