Practitioner Articles


Corey Mitchell is a staff writer for Education Week. Mitchell debriefs the implications of the Flint Water Crisis in school classrooms. Concetta Lewis acts as a special education administer with Ann Arbor Public Schools and Vice-President of the Michigan Council for Exceptional Children. Prior to her current administrative roles, Lewis taught in Detroit public schools for over a decade. Lewis examines how teachers might collaborate with parents and community members to address social issues affecting students within the context of Flint.

The Problem

In 2014, the state of Michigan decided to switch the water supply for the city of Flint in an effort to save money. Mitchell (2016) claims municipal budget-cut efforts contributed to high levels of lead in hundreds of students’ blood, leaving local officials and school teachers and administrators to combat the effects of lead-exposure on cognitive and social development for Flint’s youngest. The “manmade catastrophe” of lead-poisoning occurred under the control of a temporary, state-appointed emergency manager (Mitchell, 2016). Echoing Mitchell’s (2016) sentiment, Lewis (2016) claims Governor Snyder’s response to strip elected officials of their positions and appoint emergency managers doubly disenfranchised the community of Flint by putting people with “limited or no accountability to the communities they serve” in charge (p. 1).

The Effect

For the 5,500 student school district, water from the faucets and drinking fountains of four Flint schools tested above the federal limits for lead levels (Mitchell, 2016). Extensive research on the neurotoxin suggests lead-poisoning causes permanent IQ loss and developmental delays in children, evidently affecting their ability to learn and perform in the classroom (Mitchell, 2016). Lewis (2016) speaks candidly of her disappointment: “To know that children in the city have been subjected to the irreversible damage of lead poisoning, and to understand the implications this has for their future academic success is disheartening (p. 1). Mitchell (2016) calculates a substantial increase in the special education services needed in Flint schools for developmentally delayed students affected by the water crisis. Superintendent Tawwab of the Flint school district claims “there is no question we will be challenged to pull together” (as cited in Mitchell, 2016, p. 1).

What Comes Next

Mitchell (2016) focuses on micro measures educators can take to mitigate the effects of the lead exposure in the classroom. Teachers, parents, and community leaders have come together to propose and evaluate potential intervention methods employable in classrooms (Mitchell, 2016). Proper nutrition and early childhood intervention education can mitigate the effects of toxicity; however, Mitchell (2016) claims Flint schools have scarce resources and limited funding to make these solutions a reality at the moment.

On the other hand, Lewis (2016) focuses on macro measures educators can take to mitigate the effects of injustices outside of the classroom on student achievement in the classroom. Lewis (2016) calls for teachers to promote democratic principles in classroom curriculum to teach the importance of civic engagement. She states, “We must prepare students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers, even if it means challenging the status quo…I challenged my students to think beyond the information that was presented to” (p. 1). Lewis (2016) argues that students must be taught to understand the power of their own voice and the implications that their civic participation will have on their own lives. Lewis (2016) ends her argument with the following hopeful sentiment: “When elected and appointed officials know that community members have come together, are educated on the issues, and understand the power they have, the needs of all members of the community are better served (p. 2).