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A woman holding a sign that says Safe Water for Jackson, Kids Deserve Safe Water!
Erica Jones, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators, writes that the capital city is at a “critical juncture,” calling on leaders to collaborate and take advantage of the funds available for necessary infrastructure work and decide upon a viable solution. Photo courtesy Erica Jones

‘Clean Water Is A Human Right’: Jackson’s Water Crisis Is An Education Crisis

JACKSON, Miss.—I am a second-grade teacher who is currently serving as state president for the Mississippi Association of Educators. I write to express concerns over the current water crisis in the capital city.

This issue is not new. In fact, Mississippi’s capital city has been plagued with unreliable, unsanitary water service for years. Today, on Aug. 26, 2022, the Jackson water crisis is at a critical juncture. We are currently under a boil-water notice for the fourth week in a row. 

In the midst of that, we also learned that raw sewage has been dumped into the Pearl River, the water plants are severely understaffed, property values are suffering, restaurants are threatening to close, businesses are leaving, and the recent rain deluge is threatening the viability of our ancient pipe system. 

Flooded potholes will likely be the norm for several days. Again.

Clean Water Is a Human Right

So, why is MAE leading a charge on this? Why do we think it’s a bunch of teachers’ business to get involved in a city’s public utilities?

I will tell you why: because clean water is a human right. We believe the citizens of Jackson are being denied a basic human right that influences health, quality of life and economic opportunity.

Because a water crisis is an education crisis. Jackson students cannot perform at their highest achievement levels when they are victims of limited water access and unsafe water.

Because Jackson water is currently not safe. Jackson water has been found to contain lead and copper. Even low levels of lead in the blood can cause developmental delays, difficulty learning, behavioral issues and permanent, disabling neurological damage. 

Because Jackson’s access to water is inconsistent. Infrastructure issues resulting in no water, low water pressure and boil-water notices continue to have an impact on the access of water for students, educators, community members and businesses.
 
Because consistency is necessary for successful education. The learning experience of Jackson students at every level is being disrupted without notice and with lasting harm due to lack of water, low water pressure and dependence on bottled water.

On Aug. 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, Miss. Courtesy MAE

Because schools should be safe, calm spaces for students, educators and staff. The disorder, interruption and confusion that ensues with an unexpected water failure creates anxiety eventually associated with learning loss, mental trauma and exacerbation of other socioeconomic challenges.

Because students are still expected to perform well, water or no water. Jackson students are expected to show growth on state testing despite these consistency and health challenges caused by Jackson’s unreliable, unsafe water system.

Because water issues tilt the scale against Jackson teachers and students. Despite the hardships imposed by the Jackson water crisis, both students and educators are evaluated and held accountable to the same state standards as those with reliable water systems.

Because water crises create family economic crises. In addition to the ongoing cost of bottled water, when schools close unexpectedly, parents are faced with the choice of either staying at home, thereby sacrificing income, or hiring someone to stay with their children who cannot attend school.

Our Students Deserve Better

This water crisis is an education crisis. Our students deserve better. Our community deserves better. Our city deserves better.

Consult your teachers, your coaches, your school administrators, school support staff, your children and grandchildren. They will tell you this is a problem that needs fixing. Now.

We have urged our local officials to work together and come up with a viable solution and take advantage of the funds available for this work. We have invited table leaders, community groups, faith leaders and all who are affected to the table to help encourage those who are responsible to collaborate and lean into the task. We’re grateful to hear of efforts to reach across the aisle to cooperate.

Here at MAE, we have a saying, “Together, we can.” We believe that together we can solve the Jackson water crisis. We are certainly ready to do our part.

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to [email protected] We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

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