In the ongoing scandal of the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water by the Snyder administration and the heart-wrenching reports of the dilapidation of Detroit Public Schools, there’s another untold story being reported today by the Detroit Free Press. Because the schools are old and may contain lead in the water lines, students cannot drink, shower with, or swim in the water:
Mike Williams lives in Grand Blanc and coaches boys basketball at Flint Beecher, which is in Mt. Morris Township, so the Flint water crisis doesn’t hit home with him … until he goes to his day job.
Williams teaches physical education at Flint Northwestern, which is kind of like ground zero for the disaster that has people in Flint unable to drink the water in their homes. […]
“You can’t drink the water, and the toilet water there looks like dirt,” Williams said. “It’s bad, and I don’t understand why this governor and these people aren’t going to jail. It’s ridiculous; it doesn’t make any sense.” […]
But if you want to know what keeps Williams awake at night, it is Northwestern’s swimming pool.
Students ask Williams whether they are going swimming, but there is no chance of that happening these days. But it did happen before people acknowledged that there was a problem with the water.
“The sad thing is they’ve been swimming the last couple of years, and we don’t know what that effect might have on them,” he said. “That water’s not safe. It’s tough right now.”
On top of that, it turns out that some Flint schools are in as bad a condition as the ones we’ve been seeing photos of and reading about in Detroit in recent weeks:
There is no new infrastructure at Northwestern, where the drinking fountains had to be turned off to make sure that students didn’t mistakenly drink the water.
One thing students don’t have to worry about is using the showers after gym class, practices or games.
“They can’t even get into the locker room right now because some pipes burst due to the weather,” Williams said. “My kids can’t even get dressed for gym unless they go into the hallway bathroom.’’
There is a perfectly logical explanation for why some of the pipes burst at Northwestern.
“Literally, for the first couple of weeks of winter, we didn’t have any heat in the building,” Williams said. “It was freezing in there. That’s why the pipes bust.”
Imagine for a moment that you are Flint parent with children attending Flint Northwestern. Each day you would have to send them off to school knowing that they cannot drink the water and the school is cold enough that the pipes freeze solid and burst. On top of that, they may have been unknowingly swimming in lead-contaminated water for who knows how long.
This is the environment that teachers are supposed to teach and that children are supposed to learn in. And if they “fail”? Then they get more pain by being put under the control of an Emergency Manager who will come in and make cuts – cuts to programs, cuts to teachers’ pay, cuts in staffing. Emergency Managers literally attempt to solve these intractable, systemic problems by cutting rather than building and renewing.
Fortunately, Flint schools don’t have an Emergency manager. Yet.
What’s the common thread here? Republican cuts to education and austerity budgets that pay no heed to the physical conditions of schools. Kids in more affluent neighborhoods generally attend nice schools with all the amenities (and none of the lead contamination) and receive roughly the same amount of funding as schools in urban areas where the tax base has been cratered by disinvestment and offshoring of their former manufacturing base. Not so affluent schools end up like Flint and Detroit and then teachers are blamed for not educating the kids.
It’s not only unfair, it’s harmful to society. What’s happening in Michigan in Flint and Detroit and other cities in similar straits is unconscionable and our state will pay a very tall price for it in the future.
That is not a prediction. That is a fact.