- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The Jackson Public School District is expected to file a response to an audit conducted by the Mississippi Department of Education that resulted in a recommendation for a downgrade in the district’s accreditation status.

The Clarion-Ledger reports (https://on.thec-l.com/2aCxOzp) the state’s second largest school district is at risk of starting the new academic year on probation pending the outcome of the August 16 hearing before the Commission on School Accreditation.

Some of the most serious violations alleged in the evaluation are that principals’ “hands are tied” when it comes to administering discipline with Superintendent Cedrick Gray overturning their discipline policies, failures to operate according to school board policies and to ensure a “positive, safe and secure school climate exists for students.”

Problems with record keeping were cited at length in the report. According to the audit, JPS’s failure to report complete and accurate documents to MDE was a direct violation of the State Board of Education’s accreditation requirements. A review of documents during the process, indicated at least six high schools - Callaway, Murrah, Forest Hill, Jim, Lanier and Wingfield - had graduating seniors for the 2014-2015 school year that did not meet graduation requirements.

More than 100 pages address maintenance issues including bats in an auditorium, a need for pest control in a cafeteria, outdated fire extinguishers and abandoned portable classrooms where lewd acts were alleged to have taken place. Other safety hazards mentioned are a broken eye washing station in a school’s chemistry lab, a classroom with bars on all the windows, inoperable toilets, exposed pipes and wiring and broken glass.

Problems with the district’s bus fleet, including tardiness and needed repairs are also addressed. In May, Gray told The Clarion-Ledger that $500,000 lost to a state mandated budget cut could have purchased five new buses for the district.

In a statement, Gray, who declined to address specifics in the report ahead of the district’s official response to MDE, said leaders had already identified some of the findings cited by MDE, referring to the process as one that could “enhance” the district.

“We have assembled a team of administrators to prepare the District’s response. I have the utmost confidence in our JPS administrators,” said Gray. “All are ultimate professionals and understand what’s at stake.”

According to MDE, many professional positions in the district are filled by staff who do not have a valid Mississippi Teacher’s License. The audit also found that there are teachers who are not properly endorsed for the subject they are teaching.

The review found that 79 of the 1,643 certified teachers in JPS “are working outside their areas of certification in academic core subjects,” while 200 have no certification or are improperly certified.

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, https://www.clarionledger.com

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