Jackson’s water crisis is creating mistrust and disrupting learning, teachers’ association warns

Thousands of Jackson Public School students returned to start the 2022-2023 school year during a citywide boil water advisory, requiring them to drink water in bottle in classrooms. In response, the Mississippi Educators Association is helping to draw the attention of policy makers and leaders to the effects of the water crisis affecting Jackson.

“When you think about it, you know the danger is real; we know he’s here now,” Mississippi Educators’ Association president Erica Jones said at a news conference Aug. 8, 2022. “The research we’ve done, along with the other information that we have obtained from different outlets, shows us that this is something that we cannot wait too long for the problem to be solved. »

“That’s why we’re taking a stand on this now,” she added. “We believe this is an emergency situation that needs to be addressed at this time.”

The Mississippi Educators Association unveiled a position paper on the impact of the city’s water issues as it faces aging water infrastructure and staffing shortages at its water treatment facilities. the water. “We want to provide policymakers in Mississippi with an evidence-based model of the experience of our citizens,” MEA Executive Director Antonio Castanon Luna said during Monday’s press conference on the rationale for the move. ongoing survey initiative both online and on-site.

On August 8, 2022, the Mississippi Association of Educators presented the results of more than 1,000 surveys conducted on the impact of the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi. Courtesy MAE

Jasmine Cleark-Gibson, organizational specialist for the Mississippi Educators’ Association, presented the pie chart results from the online and in-person surveys. “Ninety-three (93%) of our participants say they have experienced problems with tap water,” she said. “And when it comes to our students in their neighborhood or family, over 90% said they had experienced tap water issues.”

“We understand that these issues place a financial burden on our families across the state; they think the faucet is undrinkable in Jackson – over 96%,” she said. “And when it comes to spending on bottled water, 48% of our participants report spending between $50 and $100 on water per month.

“Teachers have bottled water”

On Aug. 10, 2022, the Mississippi Free Press spoke with a Jackson Public Schools staff member from one of the schools, who revealed that since Monday resumed, teachers had bottled water in the classroom for students, and they welcome water donations. She did not speak in an official capacity and therefore remains unidentified in this report.

“They drink from bottled water; teachers have bottled water in their rooms,” she said. “JPS donated water for the classroom, and some parents donated water for the classroom.”

During the press conference, Luna explained that the water crisis is an educational, economic and health problem. “We also recognized that Jackson’s water system is subject to catastrophic failure if we don’t act now,” he said. “We also recognize that this can be a win, win, win for everyone involved, especially if we are able to resolve the water crisis quickly and with decisive action.”

He said the prevalence of lead pipes in Jackson’s water system is harmful to children and their families and that school water disruptions are straining the learning environment. . “It destabilizes student learning environments and creates economic stress for families,” he added.

Mayor Lumumba in a navy suit speaks to someone to the left.  A calendar indicating April 07 is seen behind him
Mayor of the City of Jackson, Chokwe A. Lumumba, explained during a press conference on August 8, 2022 that his administration is investing in the water system. File photo by Kayode Crown

The Mississippi Department of Health declared a citywide boil water advisory on July 30, 2022. However, in a press conference on August 8, 2022, the city mayor of Jackson, Chokwe A. Lumumba, challenged the correctness of the decision, citing a change. in the purification method as the cause of the increased turbidity, and asserts that the problem is not a cause for concern and that the water is safe to drink, which the Mississippi State Health Department disputed.

In an unsigned post on the City of Jackson’s Facebook page, the mayor’s administration explained that it recognizes people’s frustration with the water system, as well as the sewer system. “Our failure to meet these challenges is due to a lack of resources, not a lack of political will to achieve our goals,” the City of Jackson said. “We are aggressively seeking resources to address these issues.”

“We know that recent federal support will help us address some of these issues, and we are engaging in many projects dedicated to these ends,” the City added. “We are not where we want to be – or choose to be – with the systems we inherited, but (we) understand the frustration of residents who simply deserve better.”

“A total distribution of basic services”

In a phone interview with the Mississippi Free Press on Aug. 10, 2022, Mississippi De’Keither Stamps Rep. D-Jackson said his constituents are feeling the ramifications of the city’s water crisis. “It’s a total breakdown of basic services and a total lack of trust, and people are very tense to try – really, water is a basic element for life,” he said. “I live in one of the most deprived areas of the city; this was our reality even before the water crisis.

A man in a brown suit and colorful tie looks at the camera
Mississippi De’Keither Stamps Rep. D-Jackson said his constituents are feeling the impact of the city’s water crisis. Picture of Kayode Crown

Speaking to the media on Monday, August 8, 2022, Mayor Lumumba explained that his administration is investing in the water system, with City Engineer Robert Lee stating that “in terms of funding, we have a number of funding sources we have used; most of them have been loan funds through the program (State Revolving Fund) and the Department of Health (State of Mississippi),” he said.

The mayor said the city continues to work with the health department and the US Environmental Protection Agency. “We have routine meetings with the EPA, routine meetings with the State Department of Health, and we have also invited the service of the US Water Alliance, which will help us in the decision-making and the prioritization of upcoming projects,” he said.

The association recommends solutions

On Monday, the Mississippi Educators Association made recommendations to address the city’s water crisis, including asking the mayor to proclaim the water resolution as the number one priority, developing a plan with a proposed legislative action and making it available to the public. by September 1, 2022.

“We recommend that the Mississippi State Legislature and state leaders give (their) immediate attention to the Jackson water crisis and provide a plan for funding improvements not covered by the ARPA grant program. over the next year 2023,” said executive director Luna.

“We also recommend that government, community, education and religious representatives form the Jackson Safe Water Crisis Coalition to follow the recommendations, meet monthly in an effort to communicate and collaborate, establish a online presence to continue to educate the community on the issue and the way forward, and to be a leading non-partisan group advocating for these changes and monitoring students for accommodations,” he added.

Rep. Stamps told the Mississippi Free Press he’s willing to meet as often as needed on the issue, but he points to lack of trust among stakeholders as a barrier. “The first priority is that those responsible for the water supply must do their job,” he said on Wednesday August 10. “The second priority is that I will meet anyone, anytime for the water to be restored.”

Man in red polo shirt
Jackson Association of Educators president George Stewart II says low water pressure is disrupting learning in schools. Photo courtesy of George Stewart II

“First we have to rebuild trust,” he added. “The inhabitants of the city (capital) do not trust other inhabitants of the city; voters don’t trust the city (of Jackson); the City does not trust the State; the state does not trust the city, the federal government does not trust the state, the federal government does not trust the city. It’s just a breach of trust on many levels. We have to rebuild (trust) so that we can unite.

“You can have a meeting all you want, but (if) no one in the room trusts anyone, how can you come to a (resolution)?” Stamps added.

Low Water Pressure in Jackson Public Schools

Some Jackson Public School institutions — Lester Elementary, Wilkins Elementary, Peeples Middle, Whitten Middle and Wingfield High — are reporting low water pressure, the district’s executive director of public engagement Sherwin Johnson told the Mississippi Free. Press in an emailed statement August 10, 2022.

“All schools remain open for in-person learning and maintain their regular hours,” he explained. “We are seeking the support of the City of Jackson Fire Department to temporarily increase water pressure for restroom breaks at affected schools.”

“Each of our schools started the school year with 20 cases of bottled water on-site as a result of a charitable donation,” Johnson added.

In a video presentation at Monday’s press conference, Jackson Association of Educators President George Stewart II explained the impact of low water pressure on the learning environment, including the need to move to online learning, negatively affecting the most vulnerable students.

“(Sometimes) we’re not allowed to flush the toilet,” he said. “The custodial staff is then obliged to take action and solve this problem quickly. If this problem is not solved quickly enough, then we have to use portable toilets. This can be very unsanitary and can become a very real safety issue. »

The Mississippi Educators Association is planning a water-focused community event for August 27, 2022 at LeFleur’s Bluff State Park.

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