By Data Stream
By JEFF AMY
JACKSON – The city of Jackson’s public school system will get a chance April 26 to show why it shouldn’t lose state accreditation.
The state’s second-largest school district could lose its seal of approval for not following laws regarding children with behavioral problems. Documents submitted to the accreditation commission show the Jackson system isn’t properly serving emotionally disabled students, especially those who have served out-of-school suspensions of more than 10 days.
Mississippi’s Commission on School Accreditation set the hearing Monday, after reviewing information about district problems. Lee Childress, Corinth superintendent and vice chairman of the commission, said he hoped the state wouldn’t have to revoke accreditation.
“I think if they will work with the office of special education, things could work out from them,” Childress said.
The state has never revoked accreditation for a district.
Mississippi is stepping up penalties for districts that do lose accreditation, including barring sports teams and interscholastic activities and allowing students to transfer. However, Jackson’s case is being handled under older rules. The only penalty under those rules would be a ban on postseason play for school athletic teams, said Mississippi Department of Education officials.
The state department has been paying for outside advisers to help Jackson improve since 2010, but Ann Moore, the state’s director of special education, said the district initially resisted changes.
“They are working with us now,” Moore said. “We did encounter a great deal of resistance initially.”
Moore said things improved after Jackson hired Jayne Sargent as interim superintendent. The district recently told all its special education employees that they might be fired at the end of the school year. Moore said she worked all weekend with Jackson’s head of special education to finish a new report due to the state Monday.
“We are committed to continuing to work with the district to resolve all the deficiencies on the record,” Moore said.
Sargent did not attend Monday’s meeting. Though the commission asked if anyone from the district was there to comment, spokeswoman Peggy Hampton said the district sent no representatives because it had received a letter saying its officials would not be allowed to speak.
Jackson was already on probation for failing to submit a financial audit following the 2009 budget year and failing to properly record unexcused student absences. That means the only penalty available to the commission is to revoke accreditation.
Kathy Boteler, a lawyer for the Mississippi Department of Education, said rules call for an immediate downgrade when a school district doesn’t comply with federal regulations within a year of notice of noncompliance.
The complaint was filed in 2010 on behalf of nine students and others in similar situations by an arm of the Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Ala. The state’s findings show the Jackson district wasn’t properly evaluating students with behavior problems, wasn’t tracking their progress and may not have been providing services as called for in each student’s educational plan.