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Flint Children to Be Screened for Disabilities After $4 Million Settlement

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Thousands of children and young adults exposed to lead during the Flint water crisis will be screened to determine whether they need special education or health services as part of a tentative $4.1 million settlement of a federal lawsuit against the state of Michigan.

Under the settlement, the state education department would pay to begin covering the cost of the screenings. As many 30,000 school-age children, toddlers and young adults could be eligible, lawyers estimate.

Flint children younger than 18, including those who attend charter schools, former city residents and any children who may have visited the city during the water crisis would be eligible for the screening. Former students between the ages of 18 and 25 who did not earn high school diplomas would also be eligible.

The screenings would be completed as part of the Flint Registry, an effort funded by a $14.4-million federal grant that Michigan State University received from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That registry is set to launch in September.

U.S. District Court Judge Arthur J. Tarnow must approve the agreement. He is expected to hold a hearing on the proposal on Thursday.

The agreement stems from a class-action civil rights lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, Education Law Center and others brought against the Flint schools, state education department and the  Genesee County Intermediate School District in 2016.

Flint residents have relied on bottled or filtered water for drinking and cooking needs since 2015, when experts first warned about elevated lead levels in the city's water supply.

The problems began while the city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager. That's when officials decided to save money by switching its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. The city switched back to Lake Huron water in October 2015, 18 months later. But the switch came too late for some children.

The cost-cutting move introduced lead and iron into the water. In the time since the switch, the percentage of infants and children with elevated blood-lead concentrations that can cause permanent IQ loss and developmental delays has risen sharply, according to researchers and local health officials.

The settlement announced Monday addresses just one portion of the broader lawsuit: finding and identifying children exposed to lead.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, children and parents from more than a dozen families, will continue to press the state and district to provide resources to those harmed by the lead exposure. That includes ensuring students with lead exposure aren't subject to harsh discipline policies because of behaviors tied to their disabilities. The plaintiffs argue that the Flint schools, county, and state were already improperly handling special education services well before the lead crisis began.

The settlement comes just days after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced that the state will stop providing Flint residents with free bottled water when current supplies run out. Recent state tests have found that the water is safe for drinking, bathing and cooking, but activists have questioned the decision.

Flint residents have relied on bottled or filtered water for drinking and cooking needs since late 2015, when experts first warned about elevated lead levels in the city's water supply. The state initially denied the findings.

Related Stories

'There's No Greater Ally to a Pediatrician Than an Educator'

After Flint, New Scrutiny of Schools' Drinking Water

Flint Schools Fail to Meet Needs of Special Education Students

Amid Water Crisis, Flint Superintendent Forced Off Job

Water Contamination Raises Health Concerns for Flint Students

Photo Credit: Flint resident Nia Augustine, 26, carries two cases of free bottled water as she fills a vehicle's trunk with eight cases at a water distribution center as cars line up more than 50 deep on Dort Highway on April 6 in Flint, Mich. The state will no longer supply free bottled water to Flint residents after it says the city's water quality has been restored. 

--Jake May/The Flint Journal-MLive.com via AP    

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