Mississippi governor declares state of emergency within Holmes County Schools

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HOLMES COUNTY, Miss. (WJTV) – On Thursday, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency within the Holmes County Consolidated School District (HCCSD). This comes after the Mississippi Board of Education recommended the state take control of the district after an audit showed longstanding problems with financial management, academic achievement and student safety.

The governor posted the following statement on social media:

Today, after a thorough review, I agreed with the actions taken by the Commission on School Accreditation and the recommendation by the State Board of Education and I declared a state of emergency within the Holmes County Consolidated School District.

This isn’t a decision I take lightly nor one I make with any delight. Maintaining local control when possible is a foundational principle of conservative governance; however, the serious violations of state & federal law & accreditation standards, serious financial concerns, lack of internal controls, inappropriate standards of governance, inappropriate oversight by the Board, and the continued poor academic performance (among many other factors) no longer make that possible in the HCCSD.

Ensuring MS kids have access to a quality education will always be a top priority. This declaration of an extreme emergency situation within HCCSD will hopefully give the kids of this district a chance at success in life, because each one of them deserve nothing less!

May God bless all involved in the recovery efforts!

Gov. Tate Reeves, R-Miss.

Classes for the new school year started Thursday in the Holmes district, which has about 2,500 students. In the takeover, the Department of Education will appoint Jennifer Wilson as interim superintendent and the current school board will be dissolved. Wilson is a former superintendent of Greenwood schools.

The state Department of Education conducted an onsite investigative audit of the Holmes County schools from April 27 to July 23.

The Mississippi Commission on School Accreditation said Monday that an “extreme emergency” exists because of multiple problems found during the audit. Academic problems included use of curriculum that does not meet state standards and failure to identify students who need special education services. Safety problems included allowing kindergartners to use broken playground equipment.

Debra Powell has been the Holmes County superintendent since May 17. She told the state Board of Education on Tuesday that she has been working to make improvements.

“We are not who we used to be,” Powell said. “We have the right people in place.”

The most recent state report card, for the 2019-20 year, showed two of Holmes County’s six schools had a rating of F, and the other four had a rating of D. If the state takes over the district, an interim superintendent will remain on the job until the district has a grade of at least C for at least five years.

The HCCSD filed a lawsuit Thursday morning over what it describes as “sham, unconstitutional proceedings” following the Board of Education’s ruling. The lawsuit is seeking a temporary restraining order.

The lawsuit alleged the Mississippi Department of Education did not give the district due process and violated its own policies and procedures in conducting an audit of the district and the subsequent hearings before the Commission on Accreditation and State Board of Education.

The Mississippi Department of Education on Thursday said it does not comment on matters in litigation.

The Associated Press and Mississippi Today contributed to this report.

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