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Ongoing water issues force Jackson, Mississippi, public schools to go virtual

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(JACKSON, Miss.) -- The ongoing water system issues in Jackson, Mississippi, continue to impact residents in the new year. The latest issue is impacting Jackson Public Schools on the day that students were supposed to return from winter break.

On the same day, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba gave a rousing speech celebrating federal money that the Mississippi capital is due to receive to fix its crumbling water infrastructure.

"Today, we can finally say that after decades of kicking the can of crumbling infrastructure down the road, the stars have aligned for Jackson," Lumumba said. "At this moment in time, we have secured the expertise and the funding needed to start repairing, replacing and modernizing Jackson's water system."

Lumumba announced that the city is closer than it has been since the start of the water crisis to providing safe drinking water for its residents through the $1.7 trillion federal omnibus bill that passed just before the end of 2022. But the announcement comes as Jackson Public Schools had to initiate virtual learning for all its students because of low to no water pressure in 29 of its schools.

Former kindergarten through third-grade teacher Bernestine Hatfield has an 8-year-old granddaughter in Jackson Public Schools. She said this isn't the first time students have had to learn remotely because of insufficient water pressure in schools.

"They have been affected in a major way," Hatfield said. "It's just so off-and-on, as soon as one thing gets fixed then something else happens."

In Lumumba's speech on Thursday, he did not address Jackson schools, which were forced to go virtual. Instead, he focused on federal resources his city is expected to receive to alleviate its water system issues.

"This transformative funding not only ensures water infrastructure improvements," Lumumba said. "But will increase the overall quality of life of all Jacksonians and neighboring ratepayers."

Last year, Lumumba sent a letter to President Joe Biden notifying him that Jackson's long-term recovery plan would cost up to $2 billion. According to Lumumba, Jackson is $800 million closer to its goal through funding appropriated by the federal government.

But the mayor's good news may be falling on deaf ears. Jackson public school students don't know when they'll be able to return to school. According to Jackson Public School's website, the number of schools with low water pressure has reduced to 22. They will continue to monitor the water pressure over the weekend to determine if it's safe for students to return Monday.

"It's just taking a lot of time away from classroom instruction," Hatfield said. "I do believe it's causing a major problem with their learning because some of the students have to have structure."

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