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Failing Jackson Public Schools take another step toward a five-year state takeover

The state Commission on School Accreditation voted 10-1 today to recommend to the state Board of Education that a state of emergency exists in the Jackson Public Schools district. Photo by Steve Wilson

The second largest school district in Mississippi, Jackson Public Schools, is a step closer to a possible state takeover.

The state Commission on School Accreditation voted 10-1 Wednesday during its meeting to recommend to the state Board of Education that a state of emergency exists in the Jackson Public Schools district that threatens the safety, security or educational interests of its students.

The board will meet Thursday at 10 a.m. to discuss the matter and could recommend to Gov. Phil Bryant that a state of emergency exists that requires a state takeover. If Bryant was to approve such a move, the district's superintendent and board would replaced by a state-appointed conservator for the next five years.

Interim JPS Superintendent Freddrick Murray declined to comment about the matter after the meeting, but said that he was thankful for the community's support for the beleaguered system.

JPS is already on probation that was approved last August by the accreditation commission after a limited audit of 22 of the then 60 schools in JPS found serious deficiencies. The commission approved a more comprehensive audit at that meeting that was revealed on August 31.

The Mississippi Department of Education released its comprehensive audit of Jackson Public Schools on August 31 and found the district was in violation of 24 out of the 32 standards that all public school districts are required to meet.

During Wednesday's sometimes contentious hearing, the MDE's chief accountability officer, Paula Vanderford, laid out a damning case of a system with serious safety, curriculum, accountability and other discrepancies.

The MDE's report cited numerous deficiencies with school security plans, non-functional metal detectors and many unlocked doors that allowed MDE inspectors to rove at will without challenge from school administrators or school resource officers.

According to MDE auditors, there were numerous instances of no security for standardized tests. One JPS principal tried to prevent auditors from accessing test sites. Another standardized test proctor was observed by MDE inspectors giving answers to a student.

According to the MDE, some JPS teachers were pressured by school administrators to change failing grades to allow students to graduate.

Also, the district was again hit with allegations of restricting opportunities for children with special needs, an issue that has been raised by the commission in the past. According to the MDE's audit report, the district failed to file federally-mandated Individual Education Plans for students with special needs

The JPS finally got its time to respond and Murray told the commission that it had made great strides in only seven months to get much of the discrepancies corrected.

Murray said that some of the ineligible graduate numbers from Callaway High submitted by the MDE's Office of Accreditation — which conducted the audit of the district — were in error. Murray also said the district was penalized by not only having to correct deficiencies from the original audit and facing the comprehensive audit period overlapping during that time.

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