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Jackson Public Schools Go Virtual As More Than Half Lack Water

A JPS Classroom of students raising their hands
Public school students in Jackson, Miss., like those seen here, spent the first day of the semester learning virtually on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, as more than half of schools continued to lack reliable access to safe, running water after damage from late December winter storms. Photo courtesy JPS

JACKSON, Miss.—The Jackson Public School District opted for virtual instruction for its nearly 20,000 students today, the first school day of the spring semester, after reporting that more than half of its 54 schools “have low or no water pressure” in a press release Wednesday, Jan. 4. A cold front over the Christmas weekend damaged the City of Jackson’s water system, affecting supply across the city.

In an earlier release on Tuesday, Jan. 3, the school district said it would go virtual on Thursday and Friday, with 33 schools having low or no water pressure. In the revised Wednesday guidance, the district said the number of school water problems fell by four.

“We will continue to evaluate our water supply this evening and in the morning to determine if it is safe to reopen schools on Friday, January 6th,” the release said. “We are very pleased to learn of the progress being made in restoring water pressure across the city. Unfortunately, despite those reports, the majority of our schools and offices (29) still have low or no water pressure.”

In a town hall meeting that Jackson Ward 6 Councilman Aaron Banks organized at the Glory Empowerment Center (115 Maddox Road) on Monday, the federally appointed Jackson water system administrator, Ted Henifin, explained that the City’s limited knowledge of its own system contributes to the problem.

Dr. Errick L. Greene, Jackson Public School Superintendent, at the capitol
Public schools across Jackson are going virtual on the first day of school this semester after more than half of the schools had low or no water pressure on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023. Dr. Errick L. Greene (pictured) is the Jackson Public School District superintendent. Photo by Kayode Crown.

“We don’t know anything about our distribution system,” he said at the forum, where he listened to the frustrations of local residents. “And I say we—I’ve only been associated with the water system for three months and really only been responsible for the last 30 days.”

“We don’t know where the valves are, we don’t know what position they’re in, we don’t have records of that, and we haven’t been able to find any of that information. We don’t have a model.”

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann told the media on Tuesday that he was disappointed when he heard the administrator’s comment concerning the operators’ poor knowledge of the system.

“I was just really disappointed last night (when) the federal administrators said he didn’t know where all the valves were,” Hosemann said on Tuesday. “It’s obvious to me that we have some preliminary work in Jackson—it has to be done before we can even allocate any more money.”

“Between us, Hinds County and the City of Jackson, I think we’ve contributed like $104 million,” he said. “And then the feds have contributed $600 million, but there are some really basic needs in Jackson, I think, that need to be covered before we allocate any more than the $700 million.”

Henifin expressed frustration about the limited knowledge of the system in his interview with the Mississippi Free Press’s Nick Judin in December 2022. “All we do is pump water in from the two locations and the wells and hope for the best,” Henifin said in the interview.

A man in a dark suit with periwinkle tie talking at a mic and pointing to the left
Jackson Ward 6 Councilman Aaron Banks organized a town hall for the federally appointed Jackson water system administrator Ted Henifin to speak with some of the people the repeated water crisis hit hardest. File photo by Imani Khayyam / Courtesy Jackson Free Press

“If you don’t know what’s going on in the system, how it’s operating, I hate to say it, but we’re out here flying blind,” he added. “This is where I stress the need for a hydraulic model and data coming in from the system. Right now, we’re getting that data from fire hydrants. But that’s a manual, slow effort.”

Henifin said in an update on Wednesday that his office is receiving “a few reports from residents in South Jackson that they are seeing water this morning after nearly two weeks without any water.”

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