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Flint school leader speaks out: “COVID-19 is just a second crisis we’re fighting”

Some students in Flint are still dealing with the harmful effects of lead poisoning
Inside one of the classrooms at Northridge Academy in Flint where desks have been distanced and special seating added, among other things.
Inside one of the classrooms at Northridge Academy in Flint where desks have been distanced and special seating added, among other things.(ABC12 News)
Published: Jul. 14, 2020 at 11:43 PM EDT
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FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - The employees at Northridge Academy are preparing to go back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic with a growing number of special needs students.

“Our special ed case load has increased by 50-percent, and if not exactly 50-percent, it’s climbing to that percentage,” said School Leader Latricia Brown.

It’s a statistic that is trending upward throughout the city, according to data maintained by the Greater Flint Health Coalition and posted on StateofFlintKids.com.

While researchers quickly work to find a vaccine for COVID-19, the students at Northridge Academy are dealing with the harmful effects of lead poisoning.

“COVID-19 is just a second crisis that we’re fighting,” Brown said.

ABC12′s camera was invited inside a 5th grade classroom as educators prepare to welcome students with certain safety protocols in place on August 3.

There is distance between each desk, far fewer than would’ve been in that room a year ago. There are bouncy balls and wobble cushions for seating. Students can write math problems directly on their desk. The lighting, walls and floors are all brightly covered with information.

“It’s turning the entire environment into sensory based learning,” Brown said.

Experts say it can be an effective learning approach for students with special needs, but Brown believes a setting like the one they’re currently cultivating is beneficial to all students.

“Even though everybody, of course, is not special ed, we turned the whole school into an environment that would address anyone who has special needs, whether they’re diagnosed or not,” Brown said.

The CDC says lead poisoning causes problems with learning, damage to the brain, nervous system and more.

“What I see is that there has been an increase in cognitive impairment cases, an increase in students with ADHD, some with autism, some with speech and language problems now because of the lead crisis,” Brown said.

That’s why before COVID-19 she implemented a plan to have no more than 10 students in a classroom. She says Northridge will start the year with a blended approach of online and in-person learning.

She’s also planning to enforce all of the requirements laid out in the state’s back to school plan. For special education, the state’s Return to Learn Roadmap suggests that educators wear clear masks and revise students’ learning plan (IEP, IFSP, and 504 )based on the child’s evolving needs and feedback from parents. In order to make sure they have enough PPE and hygiene items Brown is using money from the CARES Act and the general fund.

Despite the pandemic and the lingering effects of the water crisis, Northridge students will still have to meet certain state-required educational benchmarks.

“I beleive that the children in Flint have been done a disservice because they’re still expected to meet the academic requirements of the state on the M-STEP assessment. Some of us who are charter schools, we’re still expected to meet our academic contractual goal. If we don’t, we’re under the threat of closure. None of that is fair,” Brown said. “I don’t hear any of our schools trying to make an allowance or an excuse for not meeting those obligations. We’re all doing the best that we can to meet those obligations without the help that we need.”

Brown’s readiness plan is due by July 23, and class will begin on Monday, August 3.

There is an enrollment event being planned tentatively on July 31 if you’re interested in enrolling your child.

Copyright 2020 WJRT. All rights reserved.

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