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Flint’s Children Suffer in Class After Years of Drinking the Lead-Poisoned Water

Five years after Michigan switched Flint’s water supply to the contaminated Flint River from Lake Huron, the city’s lead crisis has migrated from its homes to its schools, where neurological and behavioral problems — real or feared — among students are threatening to overwhelm the education system.

The contamination of this long-struggling city’s water exposed nearly 30,000 schoolchildren to a neurotoxin known to have detrimental effects on children’s developing brains and nervous systems. Requests for special education or behavioral interventions began rising four years ago, when the water contamination became public, bolstering a class-action lawsuit that demanded more resources for Flint’s children.

That lawsuit forced the state to establish the $3 million Neurodevelopmental Center of Excellence, which began screening students. The screenings then confirmed a range of disabilities, which have prompted still more requests for intervention.

The percentage of the city’s students who qualify for special education services has nearly doubled, to 28 percent, from 15 percent the year the lead crisis began, and the city’s screening center has received more than 1,300 referrals since December 2018. The results: About 70 percent of the students evaluated have required school accommodations for issues like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as A.D.H.D.; dyslexia; or mild intellectual impairment, said Katherine Burrell, the associate director of the center.