The Ford School of Public Policy and Education Policy Initiative held a seminar Wednesday afternoon to discuss findings on how the 2014 Flint water crisis impacted educational outcomes for younger children. During the discussion, the experts shared research findings nearly eight years after the crisis began, followed by a discussion on the larger real-world impacts on today’s youth.
Public policy professor Brian Jacob led the talk and began by discussing the timeline of the Flint water crisis. He said despite previous insistence from public policy officials who said the water was safe to drink, it wasn’t until 2016 when the crisis was declared a state of emergency.
Mona Hanna-Attisha, a professor at Michigan State University who helped to uncover the water crisis, Kevelin Jones, Flint Community Schools Superintendent, and Sam Trejo, assistant professor of sociology at Princeton University, were also invited to discuss the impacts on K-12 students within the community.
As the superintendent of the district, Jones said he had personal experiences dealing with the water crisis and emphasized the significant amount of time it took away from teaching.
“I used to drink water out of the water fountain at my school with no problem and be able to just enjoy my life,” Jones said. “As the superintendent, it’s very difficult to know that I walked the halls of these same schools as a young man and graduated from Flint Community Schools and is now watching children have to be careful with drinking water. Being the principal, my job is to educate scholars and motivate them to learn, but now I have to father, and I have to say don’t drink that. We had to change the way we lived in the school.”
Hanna-Attisha also explained her experience as a pediatrician giving advice to mothers. She began her own research once she heard there was a possibility of lead in the water. Her research was what helped to uncover the water crisis.
“The day after releasing our research and the state went after me and said I’m wrong, the Flint schools said no, we’re protecting kids and shut off their drinking fountains” Hanna-Attisha said.
Rackham student Eneida Hysi attended the event and said the information was eye-opening for how the crisis affected student learning.
“The impacts on education were an aspect I hadn’t really thought about,” Hysi said. “My understanding was in regards to the physiological effects.”
Trejo said that research from the water crisis showed that there was an increase in school-aged children with special needs, and Hanna-Attisha also shared research that supported these findings.
“When we look at special needs, we see an increase in them moving from before the crisis to after the crisis,” Trejo said. “There was about a 9% increase in special needs.”
LSA senior Dilpreet Kaur, a member of the Flint Justice Partnership, helped coordinate the event and spoke on the importance of spreading awareness.
“You don’t necessarily have to belong to that community to be able to speak on it,” Kaur said. “One thing (the speaker) did mention was coming into communities. For me, (I want to continue) going into the community and helping in any way I can.”
Hanna-Attisha discussed the importance of learning about the water crisis and how it is not just a trivial story.
“What happened in Flint is not just a story about this one city north of here that had this water problem and there was this big injustice,” Hanna-Attisha said. “It was really an everywhere story. It’s about inequity, it’s about disinvestment in public health, it’s about deteriorating infrastructure, it’s about environmental injustice, it’s about democracy, it’s about science.”
Hanna-Attisha also discussed methods the audience could use to get involved and help the community.
“I just want people to know the story,” Hanna-Attisha said. “It’s important for people to step into the shoes of others and to learn about their life experiences.”
Jones emphasized the importance of not just figuring out why the crisis happened, but also using the findings to initiate action.
“We need so many more resources and so much work needs to be done to address decades of toxicity,” Jones said.