Michigan governor fails Flint’s lead-poisoned kids yet again with shortsighted plan


By Amanda Litvinov / lead image by John Risk

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Michigan educators unsatisfied by their governor’s response to a public health crisis his administration caused and attempted to minimize are speaking up on behalf of students and families who are suffering the effects of lead exposure.

Educators were among hundreds of protesters who stood outside the capitol in Lansing in below-freezing temperatures last week as Gov. Rick Snyder delivered the annual state-of-the-state address. They held neon poster board signs that read, “Water is a right”; “GOP Budget = poisoned city”; and “Arrest Snyder.”

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Photo by John Risk.

In his speech, Snyder pledged to help residents of Flint, who were subjected to lead-contaminated water for more than a year following a series of budget-driven decisions made by his administration.

But educators say his plan is short on critical details, and ultimately fails to support the city’s families, whose children will likely face health and learning challenges for the rest of their lives.

“The governor didn’t go into any detail as to how the state is going to help us on this long road ahead of us. He said he would fix this, but there was really no plan,” said Karen Christian, a math intervention teacher at Potter Elementary School and president of United Teachers of Flint.

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Flint teacher Karen Christian with Michigan state Rep. Andy Schor. Courtesy of MEA.

“Getting nurses into our schools and fixing the water lines is only a start,” said Christian, who attended the governor’s address as a guest of state Rep. Andy Schor (D-Lansing).

Snyder requested $28 million in supplemental aid to help fulfill immediate needs in Flint, including additional nurses for public schools. The state House and Senate passed the measure promptly.

But educators like Christian say Flint students and families deserve a more detailed and comprehensive plan for how those funds will be used and question whether they will meet long-term needs.

“Our children and parents need to have access to testing for lead poisoning and testing for cognitive impairment,” said Christian.

She stressed that Flint families—40 percent of whom live in poverty—need access to primary care and help providing children with healthy foods rich in calcium, vitamin C, and iron. Research shows that a healthy diet, important for all kids, is even more critical for children who have been exposed to lead.

And then there are the long-term resources public schools will need as children now between the ages of 0 and 5 enter a school system that was hit hard by Gov. Snyder’s historic $1 billion in cuts to Michigan public schools in 2011.

In addition to medical care and a healthy diet, research shows that early childhood education is essential to address learning and behavioral issues in children who suffered lead poisoning.

“Educators will need the resources to proactively help families deal with cognitive impairment and behavioral issues,” Christian said. “This is not a one-time fix. We will be dealing with this for years to come.”

The Michigan Education Association reports that teachers and education support professionals around the state are donating their money and time, joining in “water rallies” to collect safe drinking water for Flint residents and gathering donated food and warm winter clothing that some children lack. Bus drivers are volunteering to deliver tons of bottled water to those that need it.

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Snyder state-of-the-state protest photo by John Risk.

Some educators and parents are also active in the movement to repeal the state’s emergency manager law, which many agree set the stage for the nightmare unfolding in Flint and has hurt mostly minority and impoverished communities.

It was the emergency manager appointed by Snyder who put cost savings before public health when he made the call to begin drawing water from the notoriously polluted Flint River in April 2014. He is also accused of brushing off complaints from residents and experts with concerns about the water.

A chemical treatment could have prevented the river water from pulling lead from Flint’s aging waterways into the water supply.

Michigan voters rejected a different version of the Emergency Manager Law in a statewide referendum in 2012, but Republican lawmakers passed a similar measure the following month, adding a small appropriation to make it immune to voter challenge.

Michigan Education Association member Susan Flory-McIntee said the Snyder administration’s elevation of financial considerations over human life brought her out to last Tuesday’s rally. “I was very much against the Emergency Manager law, and now we can see the destruction it has wrought on our people,” the Lansing teacher said.

“I just want to be a voice for justice.”

 –Brenda Ortega contributed to this report.

Reader Comments

  1. The situation in Flint is unreal. In the name of giving more tax breaks for the wealthy, the state of Michigan
    can no longer offer clean water to its people. Gov. Snyder’s decision to trust City Managers and their judgment has been a deadly failure. Plus the city of Flint is charging its residents over $100 per month for this toxic brew. Yes, this is happening in the United States, the land of liberty, the home of the free.

    Vote Republican and this is what you get. Two suggestions: show Gov. Snyder the door; and serve the Republican candidates some of the Flint River water at the next debate and ask what they think about this mess.

    God help us all!

    1. It would seem to be a bit unrealistic to think that simply voting for a candidate associated with the Republican party causes bad water quality. I am curious as to which party is without taint? Bill Clinton receiving oral sex in the white house? Barney Frank with male prostitutes? Looks like the Democrats have a few skeletons too. Maybe one ought to look at the individual character of any candidate.

  2. I disagree the Governor by appointing an individual is Responsible for that interim’s decisions. The Governor is his boss so Synder would be at fault for neglect and misconduct of supervision. Watch– Synder is in big trouble! Everything is a process. He should keep his mouth shut! But his weak sorry’s anger everyone. No one can save him. I lived thru Watergate and Synder is now drowning in his greed and filth!

  3. Gov. Snyder and his henchmen ought to be forcibly removed
    from office, arrested, prosecuted, convicted,
    and EXECUTED for crimes against Nature and humanity,
    and HIGH TREASON!!!

  4. The tragedy unfolding in Flint highlights what can happen when an entity is given total power over those lacking power. The age old adage says, “Total power corrupts totally.” The level of insensitivity to this population has truly reached a new height. The first decision was in itself wrong, to place the health of our most vulnerable, children, up against the savings of money so that some political agenda can be met. But then to add to it the fact that the knowledge of this was known by those in power in the state and choosing to disregard it. Then with fore thought the decision to continue doing to the children what was being done without any regard for their safety is totally unconscionable. Only now, after being found out, the governing power in the state are trying to put a bandage on it. But you have to wonder, is the bandage for those who made the decisions or for the children and the community those decisions have had an disastrous effect on? If it were truly for the children those in power would do more than give them water and nurses. They would create a solution that will protect the children and community from any further poisoning, replace what needs to be replaced to guarantee the community’s health. But what are the people in power doing, offering a bottle of water. Message to Governor Synder, “You failed in your primary responsibility, protecting the health and lives of your most precious, defenseless, and vulnerable citizens to save money.” A wise person once said, “Just because it is legal for you do it ask yourself is it the right thing to do?” If you can still justify it than you are more “morally” bankrupt than the members of the community are financially bankrupt. The members of your state are now faced with deciding if being morally bankrupt takes precedence over the financially and medically bankrupt. Do they approve of the actions taken and what will they do to ensure that it won’t be done again. A vote can carry a lot of weight when it is exercised by all.

  5. This is the kind of Governor you get these days when you vote Republican! Their policy (lead by the Koch brothers, ALEC) is being “fiscally responsible” even if someone gets hurt, like mainly the poor, disabled and seniors! Snyder is like all the other Republican governors…..starve a “system” to save a buck or to use as a bargaining tool, after all, this is also their “business model”!
    A third point is: They don’t care because they’re all narcissist!

    Problem is, unless you vote in big masses, you’ll never get someone who will take care of his citizenry. Handing the water supply over to “City Managers” as Snyder did, absolves him of any wrong doing and it those “managers” are part of the privatization effort across our country. When you privatize, you DEFUND the program, CUT staff so bad that it allows the mass media to say that it’s not working, THEN they either privatize the system or they bankrupt the system….allowing them to take the profits and give to their rich buddies!!

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