Water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi: students return to school

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At least one school in the Mississippi capital still had no water pressure, so those students were taken to alternate sites on Tuesday.

JACKSON, Miss — As the water crisis continued, students in the Mississippi capital were able to return to class for the first time in a week on Tuesday with the assurance that toilets and sinks in their buildings would finally be working .

Jackson remained under a boil water advisory, but the drop in water pressure that nearly collapsed the system appeared to be resolved, officials said.

Sherwin Johnson, spokesperson for Jackson Public Schools, confirmed in a statement to The Associated Press on Tuesday that schools have reopened after a drop in water pressure forced a shift to virtual instruction.

A line of cars snaked around the block in front of Spann Elementary in northeast Jackson as parents arrived to pick up their children. Syreeta Tatum waited for her fourth grader to exit the building and lamented the uncertainty Jackson’s water issues had imposed on parents and students.

“It was very frustrating,” Tatum said. “As a mother, you want to make sure your child gets the best education possible, especially knowing that my child performs better in person.”

In a statement posted to Twitter on Monday, the school district said it had “checked the water pressure at each school” and found that “almost all are fine” for students and staff to return. Many schools’ air conditioning systems depend on the water system to operate efficiently. The district said it expected delays in building cooling as temperatures hit the mid-80s on Tuesday.

“We continue to monitor and have fans and portable air conditioners available to reduce temperatures in warm or hot areas,” Johnson said.

Torrential rains and Pearl River flooding in late August exacerbated problems at one of Jackson’s two treatment plants, causing pressure to drop across the city. The school district said Forest Hill High School in south Jackson still had no water pressure. Johnson said students attending Forest Hill were transported to alternative sites on Tuesday.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the water reservoir built over the weekend has been shrinking for the past 24 hours.

“The safety net that was put in place has shrunk and shrunk,” Lumumba said. “That’s why we pray that everything stays consistent.”

If a challenge arises with the operation of the plant on Tuesday, it will likely impact customers, the mayor said.

At a press conference on Monday, Governor Tates Reeves said water supply to schools would be reduced in preparation for returning students to campuses.

“We are transferring these resources to our other water delivery mega-sites,” Reeves said. “These sites have slowed demand a bit, but we’ve still released about 5 million bottles of water in the last few days.”

Shortly after water stopped flowing through pipes in many Jackson homes, authorities rolled a tanker truck into the Forest Hill parking lot for water distribution. Santiago Matthews, a maintenance worker at the high school, had a trash can filled to the brim with water last week to fill the toilets of staff working inside. He hauled the trash can down a short incline to the high school with water splashing down the sides.

Reeves said Monday that the city has “no low-level water reservoirs.” He also said repairs to cleaner water do not eliminate all risk.

“There could be more bad days in the future,” Reeves said.

Liz Oviede, a student at Delta Technical College, picked up her 10-year-old brother on Tuesday so her mother wouldn’t have to miss work. His mother missed work at least three days last week to supervise the boy as Spann transitioned to virtual learning. Recounting a recent weekend in Houston, Texas, she longed for cleaner water.

“My face cleared up, my hair was so much softer and my hair is always so crisp here and it doesn’t feel clean,” Oviede said. “I just wish they would get together and stop playing politics.”

Michael Goldberg is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.

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