The Mississippi Department of Education is still addressing concerns after the recent decision for a state takeover of the Jackson Public School District.
A lawsuit was filed by 40 Parents of JPS students against MDE officials raises the opinion that all prior takeovers by the MDE have failed.
However, Pete Smith, Chief of Communications and Government Relations for MDE said, that is the old not the new.
“The model did not work and we acknowledge that the model did not work in raising academic standards for those districts, but now we have a new law that addresses that,” said Pete Smith, Chief of Communications and Government Relations for the MDE. “However, the model did work in making sure that those districts came back into compliance with all of the standards that they were in non-compliance with.”
Smith said that if the Governor Signs the emergency declaration, under the new law, the focus for a takeover would be on instruction rather than compliant services.
“Under the old law, the model did exactly what the law required,” said Smith. “We put in a conservator to go in and correct the deficiencies but the conservators did not focus on academics. A lot of those districts, their academics were bad anyway, but we went in there just to make sure that they got back in compliance with the standards and then when that happened we got out of there.”
Smith said the districts of transformation would be a completely new model versus the old conservatorship model. But that isn’t convincing the dozens of concerned parents who want more proof.
“We have no confidence that they have the ability to turn around the school system,” said Dorsey Carson, Parent of a JPS student and one of the Plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “We know that we would be under state takeover for at least five years. We know that the teachers and principles are all anxious and scared and given the opportunity to move outside the district we know that some of them will.”
Carson said that power at the administrative level is important and if those discussions are going to take place then you must include parents and children in them. He said even the U.S. Supreme court has recognized that public education is a liberty and a property right so all parties must be part of the process.
The lawsuit states that no notice was provided to parents and that most of the information is hard to find on the MDE’s website, which goes against their continued moto of transparency throughout this process.
“There’s no ability to gain a lot of this information and so the work that we have done really started from scratch and I would consider myself one of the more informed parents,” said Carson. Many of us thought that the corrective action plan was going to have time to go forward. We know that 1,400 of the 1,500 items cited have been not only taken care of but signed off by the Department of Education so this all came as a great surprise and many of us were scrambling just to get an understanding of the process and why we weren’t included in any of it.”
The lawsuit also accused MDE officials of violating the Open Meetings Act and said that both the accreditation board and the state board of education went into executive session without stating the specific exception to the Mississippi Open Meetings Act that it found applicable.
“Personally, and the plaintiffs in our lawsuit believe that a state takeover would be tremendously detrimental but part of our lawsuit is not even just about that,” said Carson. “Even for those parents that disagree that think the state takeover would be helpful, they were frozen out of the process too. So, it’s more than just about whether or not state takeover would help, it’s also just the fundamental fairness of and the due process rights of the parents.”
The Attorney General’s office will be representing the MDE officials who the lawsuit is being filed against.
News Mississippi reached out to the Attorney General’s office for comment on the lawsuit and they declined to comment pending litigation.