As cold temperatures repeatedly dipped below freezing this month, several public schools in Jackson switched to virtual instruction because of little or no water pressure on campus. 

The district is frequently under a boil water notice, according to Sherwin Johnson, executive director of public engagement for the Jackson Public School District. Sometimes schools do not have water at all because when the temperature drops below freezing, pipes burst which can lead to a reduction in water pressure. 

That’s just what happened this week, when approximately 4,000 students were impacted by low or no water pressure at 11 schools across the district.

“We woke up thinking it was going to be a normal routine, brushing teeth and washing faces, and instead it was trickles of water,” said Angela Crudup, whose youngest child attends Lester Elementary, one of the schools without water pressure this week. “So I immediately pulled out all our pots, just the normal routine (when there are water issues), which was a stark reminder of February last year.”

In February 2021, thousands of residents in Jackson went without water for weeks when a winter storm shut down the city’s main water treatment plant. City officials said this week that the plant is still a few years away from having the protection it needs to withstand a similar event. 

The O.B. Curtis Water Plant is seen during United States Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan’s tour stop in Ridgeland, Miss., Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. Credit: Eric Shelton/Clarion Ledger

There have also been instances when the water system has failed outside of the winter months due to other issues at the city’s water treatment plant, Johnson said. In November 2021, Wilkins Elementary kept its students home again after losing water pressure during Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan’s visit to Jackson.  

READ MORE: Why Jackson’s water system is broken

Johnson said that school closures are necessary because “when water pressure is low, we cannot flush toilets properly or prepare hot meals. You also cannot wash your hands which is extremely hazardous during this pandemic.”

Crudup works from home, which she says makes school closures inconvenient but manageable. Her two older children were also attending school virtually this week because of COVID exposure, which she said does impact their internet reliability with all three children attending virtually. 

“It can be a huge headache,” Crudup said. “My children keep getting kicked out of classes because of the internet so I’m texting teachers all day long, just trying to keep them abreast of what’s going on.” 

Johnson said that the district has provided every student with a device, but connectivity does continue to pose a challenge. 

“I honestly believe, when it comes to sending the children home, that (the schools) are doing all they can do,” Crudup said. “And the same goes for the COVID exposure situations — nobody wants to get that phone call, but at the end of the day, it’s what’s best.”

“In terms of the city, it’s the complete opposite,” she continued. “I don’t think that everything that could be done is being done…It’s been a year, and we know the problems that lie underneath our streets, and we know this is a problem that could potentially happen every single year. It’s not going to get better until something is done.” 

Stephanie Lane has a son is in second grade at Key Elementary, one of the schools impacted by the lack of water pressure. She expressed the same desire to see Jackson’s infrastructure issues addressed. 

“Every time we have snow, we have water pressure problems,” she said.

Her son is being kept by his grandmother this week, but she said that’s not always an option when they switch to virtual due to COVID exposure because they don’t want to risk her health. 

“With COVID, you never know when you’ll be doing virtual or not,” Lane said. “It’s kind of frustrating going back and forth.”  

Lane said her son does okay with the virtual lessons, but that, like many young children, it can be hard for him to maintain his focus spending that many hours a day on the computer. She said he pays attention better and learns better with his teacher there in person. 

Johnson said the district is partnering with churches and nonprofits to provide internet access, counseling, meals and water for families in need. He also said they will continue to provide support for educators teaching virtually and after-school enrichment programs to help students master content. 

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Julia James is Mississippi Today's poverty and breaking news reporter. A native of Mandeville, Louisiana, James recently completed an investigative reporting internship with Mississippi Today. In that role, she closely covered the sprawling welfare scandal and public education. She will continue that work, as well as working closely with Mississippi Today’s breaking news team. James is a 2021 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied journalism and public policy and was in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She has been published in The New York Times, Mississippi Today, and Clarion Ledger.