Court deal ensures group gets Flint school records

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A court-enforced settlement agreement between the Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service agency and Flint Community Schools requires requested school records be released to the nonprofit within 12 business days.

The MPAS, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of the mentally ill, physically disabled and developmentally disabled students, sued the school district in federal court in 2015 after two years of asking for student records and either getting no response or limited information from the district.

One of the agency’s roles and legal rights under the law is to request and inspect the records of students with disabilities whose parents have asked for help.

Brad Dembs, lead attorney for MPAS, told The News in 2016 for a story on the lawsuit that the agency had requested records from Flint schools for several families and was ignored, in some cases for years.

On Jan. 30, U.S. District Judge David Lawson approved the five-year settlement and dismissed the case.

Dembs said although the agency is entitled to the records in three to five business days under the law, the agreement will be enforced by the court for the next five years and should result in an improved turnaround time for documents.

“It absolutely is a success. When we started this our goal was to get Flint to respond to us at all. While our authority allows us to get records in three business days, 12 is a significant improvement in terms of how Flint was responding before,” Dembs said.

The district also agreed to pay $75,000 in attorneys fees for the nonprofit in the case.

Dembs said in the settlement agreement, Flint schools made some changes to improve their response time to records requests. They include purchasing improved office equipment, updated computer servers, a new fax machine and hiring a new administrative assistant.

Flint Superintendent Bilal Tawwab declined to be interviewed for this story but issued a statement that said, “Flint Community Schools remains committed to our families and students. In an ongoing effort to serve the best interests of our students, the district has increased our learning support services staff and implemented a number of support programs and services this school year.”

In court records, the district alleged it has provided all the records requested by the agency, that MPAS’ requests were too broad and must be obtained from several departments, and that there was a delay because of inadequate staffing.

The district also blames a fax machine that did not work, IT server problems in the district and a former employee who was unable to do the job.

Statewide, about 13 percent of Michigan’s K-12 student population received special education services. MPAS receives 1,000 to 2,000 calls per year from parents who are concerned about their child’s educational rights.

From 2012 through 2015, MPAS said it has been contacted by numerous families of children with disabilities who attend school in Flint, raising concerns that the school district was violating their children’s rights under federal and state law.