Even though the Mississippi Department of Education threatened to yank Jackson Public Schools' accreditation in a public lambasting over the district's ongoing problems in serving special-education students, MDE is now the one under fire.
On Tuesday, July 10, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC),
the Southern Disability Law Center and Disability Rights Mississippi filed a federal class action against MDE for failing to ensure JPS was meeting the needs of some 3,000 students with disabilities enrolled in the district.
Corrie Cockrell, an SPLC staff attorney said the organization has monitored the developments for several years. Calling JPS' efforts to make changes "inadequate," Cockrell said students with disabilities are not getting the services, including counseling, to which federal law entitles them.
"We are hoping (MDE comes) to the table with us. Our goal is not have a long legal battle," Cockrell said. "We want everyone to come to the table and try to fix these things."
The accreditation issue stems from a 2010 complaint by the Mississippi Youth Justice Project, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, alleging that JPS had repeatedly suspended students with behavioral problems or sent them to the Capital City Alternative School rather than getting them help to overcome their problems. That complaint references issues dating as far back as 2002, although most fell within the 2007 to 2009 range.
Cockrell said the SPLC is seeking only injunctive relief for its clients.
"We know that as each day passes, that's another child who is not getting the services they are entitled, and they're getting further behind as a result," she said.