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State Board of Education asks Gov. Bryant to declare state of emergency in JPS

Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

The State Board of Education has found sufficient evidence of extreme emergency to takeover the Jackson Public School District. 

The State Board of Education is asking Governor Phil Bryant to declare a state of emergency in the Jackson Public School District. 

Board chair Rosemary Altman says Dr. Margie Pulley has been named interim superintendent of JPS.

Knox Graham with the Governor's office released the following statement on the JPS takeover: 

Gov. Bryant will carefully consider the recommendation from the State Board of Education before any decision is made regarding the Jackson Public School District. There is no timetable.

On Wednesday, the Commission on School Accreditation determined an extreme emergency exists in the district that jeopardizes the safety, security and educational interests of the students enrolled. They voted 11-1 in favor of a state takeover before the issue moved on to the Board of Education.

Before the board could rule on Thursday, the Jackson Public School District sued the Department of Education in Hinds County Chancery Court, asking the court to stop the MDE from taking over operations of the school district. 

The lawsuit was dismissed because the courts did not have jurisdiction and would not be able to make a decision until a final order was filed. 

This means that the courts can not step in a stop the takeover until the Governor signs off on it. 

JPS attorney Jim Keith says that the board with talk Friday about their remaining options. 

MDE lawyers said that JPS also sought a temporary restraining order on Thursday to get more time, but that request was denied.

During the hours-long hearing, MDE officials presented the findings of a scathing investigative audit of JPS, which was released at the end of August. The audit found the district to be in violation of 24 out of the the 32 standards that all Mississippi public school districts are required to meet. 

Some of those allegations include seniors graduating without meeting requirements and general safety violations.

RELATED: JPS school bus problems detailed in MDE investigative audit

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MDE releases full investigative audit of JPS ahead of state hearing

In August 2016, the Commission on School Accreditation instructed the MDE to conduct a full investigative audit of all 58 schools in the district because a limited district audit of 22 schools cited severe deficiencies related to school safety and instructional practices. The Commission downgraded the district’s accreditation to probation.

According to the report, there were continued complaints made against the District by parents, faculty, teachers, students and concerned citizens. Based upon these complaints, the MDE conducted both announced and unannounced visits to JPS schools over the last several months.

The report states that "MDE staff entered District buildings from unlocked alternate doors. MDE staff entered the buildings without any visible name tag or identification on many occasions to determine whether they would be confronted. MDE staff walked around the campus for extended periods of time, including through the halls, around buildings, and into bathrooms, without question from any school personnel."

According to the report, students were seen by officials roaming the hallways during class, watching videos on their cell phones and engaging in what they are referring to as “horseplay” during instructional time. MDE staff also observed classrooms and students being left unattended and both students and teachers entering the school building over an hour after the first bell rang.

"Additionally, MDE staff observed numerous dress code violations in several buildings. MDE staff frequently observed gang signs, foul language, and behaviors that were in violation of the District’s Code of Conduct in the classrooms and hallways. In the student parking lots, MDE staff observed students in or around the vehicles smoking and playing loud music from the vehicles’ radios and driving dangerously in the student parking lots," the audit says. 

The MDE says it believes that the metal detectors and procedures in place are ineffective in their ability to identify weapons coming into the buildings. The report even details an instance where an MDE staff member observed the metal detector failing to sound when an off-duty SRO with a weapon walked through.

Interestingly enough, the same metal detector kept sounding as students entered the building for the entire time the MDE staff member stood at the front door.

The report states, "Over the past several months, the MDE observed and repeatedly reported this type of incident, to the District. Furthermore, in December 2015, the Attorney General’s Office released a report produced on the AG’s behalf by BOTEC Analysis Corporation. The report notes that JPS faces both a conduct problem and discipline problem…[T]he district is not adequately supporting students and the educational process is chronically disrupted by students who will not or cannot comply with basic rules.'"

The Office of the State Auditor issued a report in May 2016 which stated that Forest Hill High School’s audit could not be conducted due to safety concerns and even sites safety concerns issued in reports by the media.

RELATED: JPS superintendent addresses Forest Hill school fight video

The report says the issues within JPS that have been identified and need to be addressed are:

1) the lack of supervision by the administration within the individual schools

2) numerous equipment failures

3) effectiveness and number of School Resource Officers and School Safety Officers district-wide

4) setting expectations and holding students accountable for their behavior

Interim Superintendent Freddrick Murray argued some state allegations are false and others have been addressed. He and others argue Jackson should get more time to complete remaining fixes.


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