State to determine if emergency exists in Jackson schools
Posted September 2
JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi Department of Education has completed a review of Jackson Public Schools, coming to a distinctly different conclusion than that of a paid consultant who told officials the district was close to restoring its accreditation status.
The Clarion-Ledger reports the findings, released Thursday, stem from an 18-month investigation of the district's 58 schools.
Two months ago, a consultant told the Jackson School Board the district had completed 88 percent of the work needed to get off probation and restore its accreditation status.
According to the MDE's 700-page report, the state's second-largest school district was in violation of 24 of the state's accreditation standards, almost half of which by law could warrant a loss of accreditation or state takeover.
Interim Superintendent Frederrick Murray said in a statement that the district's board and administrative leaders are "carefully" reviewing the findings.
The review came after a partial audit of 22 schools found severe problems with record keeping that resulted in students graduating without meeting the proper requirements, a shortage of certified teachers, discipline, and reports that employees were told not to call the police in response to violent incidents. The state Commission on School Accreditation put the district on probation in response and ordered MDE to conduct onsite monitoring at all of the district's schools.
Many of those same findings resurfaced during monitors' reviews, which began on Sept. 6, 2016, and concluded on July 31.
In several instances, the state noted that violations had been previously noted.
The MDE Office of Accreditation will present the findings before the accreditation commission on Sept. 13. At that meeting, the commission could recommend a state takeover. The commission's recommendation, in turn, will be presented to the state Board of Education on Sept. 14.
At the commission meeting, JPS officials will have 40 minutes to address members of the board.
"We look forward to the opportunity to address the findings," Murray said in a statement.
In a video message, state Superintendent Carey Wright said commission members will determine "whether an extreme emergency exists in JPS that jeopardizes the safety the security or educational interests of students enrolled in the schools in the district."
The MDE has not taken a direct stance on whether the department believes an emergency exists in the district.
But a review of state law shows the findings place JPS at clear risk of state takeover.
Auditors wrote that the district "failed to provide clean and sanitary facilities in a safe and secure environment" in 44 of the district's schools.
One of the most egregious findings was the district's violation of the IDEA Act, a federal law outlining protections for students receiving special education services.
Five years ago, JPS' failure to follow the law brought the district to the brink of losing its accreditation. But the state offered JPS a deal instead to work with the MDE on improving its programs, and state officials in 2014 said the district met the standards.
If state board members find an emergency situation exists, the law allows the board to request that the governor declare a state of emergency. In that event a school district's board is dissolved and the superintendent is dismissed.
A conservator, reporting directly to the state Board of Education, is then put in place to oversee the district.
Up until Aug. 24, board members had routinely received positive updates on the progress of their corrective action plan from Jason Sargent, director of the district's Office of Accountability and Research. In April, the district brought the Bailey Education Group on at more than $90,000 to help in the effort.
On June 26, Ann Moore, a consultant with Bailey, told board members that the district was 88 percent complete in finishing its plan to get off of probation. Pat Ross, who is also with Bailey, told The Clarion-Ledger Friday that he later told the board that although the district had addressed "88 percent of its issues," getting cleared of the violations would take at a minimum at least a year.
"We reiterated it's a long process," he said.
There's still a question, however, of why there was such a disconnect between the district's confidence and MDE's findings.
The school board approved a new contract with Bailey on Aug. 24.