How Pure is Michigan? Flint Water Crisis and DPS Sick-outs

Flint’s water supply was switched from Lake Huron water to the Flint River in 2014. Despite concerned parents reporting that their children had gotten sick after drinking, bathing or swimming in the water, citizen complaints were dismissed.

Josh Sanburn in his Time Magazine cover story last month revealed that by “October 2014, the [Flint] water was so corrosive that GM announced it would no longer use municipal water at a local plant because it was damaging engine parts.”

Sanburn compared a similar situation in Washington D.C. 2004, where lead levels from the water resulted in lead poisoning in children. However, just like Flint, reports were dismissed to avoid public objections before national outcries forced another look. Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech professor and drinking water expert was involved during the D.C and Flint water crises. While investigating the lab results, he states in a recent report, “...what I learned in D.C., science alone is powerless, absolutely powerless, to these agencies. Facts mean nothing to these people. Scientific truth means nothing to them.”

Meanwhile in Detroit, the parents were torn between giving their children an education or removing them from desolate conditions. The Detroit Public School system is currently in 3.5 billion dollar deficit.

After six years and four state appointed emergency managers whose role was to fix Detroit Public Schools finances, the debt has grown, the district has lost record numbers of students, and test scores and graduation rates continue to be among the lowest in the nation.

As Noel Finley, Detroit News reporter, stated in a March 2015 op-ed, “The school district and the schools are no closer to functionality than they were when state oversight began.” Gov. Granholm appointed Robert Bobb in 2009. Gov. Snyder has since appointed Roy Roberts, Jack Martin, and Darnell Earley.

Associate Professor of Education at Wayne State University, Dr. Thomas C. Pedroni, writing a July 2014 op-ed for The Detroit Metro Times, observed that with students already “38 [students] per classroom in grades 6 through 12, Emergency Manager Jack Martin’s fiscal year 2015 budget allow[ed] class sizes in those grades to expand to 43.”.

While Detroit Public School children were crowded in classrooms by emergency management, children in Flint were being exposed to contaminated water due to the decision by the Flint emergency manager to switch from Lake Huron water to the Flint River to supposedly save money. According to Josh Sanburn of Time Magazine, children in Flint were being tested for lead levels in their blood by local pediatrician, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha. The results proved at least double to triple the levels in children, with over 900 confirmed cases. Lead is especially hazardous for children, where it can remain in the body for years. Children can grow with speech problems, diminishing IQ’s, and other mental and physical complications.

Back in the Detroit Public Schools, children are also facing a health risk, with black mold in hallways, walls, and ceilings. To call attention to these hazardous conditions, Detroit Public School teachers have staged sick-outs.

Since the State of Michigan makes it illegal for teachers to officially strike, sick-outs were seen by many teachers as their only option. Ivy Bailey is interim president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers and circulated the photos on the Internet. In the first sick-out that happened in January, she stated to a reporter, “This is black mold and our children are in the building breathing this day-in and day-out.”

In December, Gov. Snyder accepted the resignation of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant.

After an appeal from Gov. Snyder, last month, President Barack Obama officially declared Flint under a federal state of emergency and authorized millions in aid. Detroit Public School teachers conducted another sickout for the second time in January to voice their demands for change.

State Schools Superintendent Brian Whiston met with emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools Darnell Earley to address concerns about health and safety conditions in Detroit school buildings.

Given the situation since emergency management was put in charge of the Detroit Public Schools and with Flint, what confidence can citizens have that the state will effectively manage these two crises?