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City Reporter



A Moldy Mess

Report alerts parents about air quality at East High.

By Mary Cashiola

With mold clean-up still ongoing at East High School and the recent death of one of the school's students, parents are wondering about the time lag and just how harmful the substance is.

Findings from the National Econ Corporation Report indicated that there were mold spores in the air at East, as well as fungal growth and contamination on walls, ceiling tiles, and other surfaces. The report was dated November 4, 2002; however, a letter to parents was released November 13th, over a week later.

"I'm the one who released the report to the press," East parent Reverend James Robinson said. "No board members knew about the report. The superintendent didn't know about the report."

Robinson said he was at the high school with another parent and the principal discussing the school improvement plan when he casually asked about the air quality in the basement. Robinson came before the school board earlier this fall when his child developed a rash he said was due to East's environmental conditions.

Principal Harry Durham told Robinson about the report, but when Durham would not give him a copy, Robinson drove to the superintendent's office.

"I've got an investment at East. I've got children there," said Robinson.

Robinson said when he went to get a copy of the report, Superintendent Johnnie Watson told him he did not know it existed. Watson was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

The report said that results of the air analysis should be "made available to the employees' personal physicians for a specific evaluation of the findings if complaints or medical symptoms are present." The letter to East parents explained that the fungal growth in the annex and first-floor classrooms could cause cold and flu-like symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, and coughing.

Adding to the confusion is the death of East High senior Donald Mister. A longtime asthma sufferer, Mister died Saturday of the disease, according to the medical examiner's report. District officials said that Mister had been ill several days before his death and had been absent from school. There is no evidence currently linking his death to the school's mold problem.

The school district defends the time between the report and the letter to parents.

"There was a lot of activity within that interim period," said Associate Superintendent Roland McElrath. "Subsequent to receiving the report, we had to meet with the National Econ Corporation to review the report findings so we understood them." McElrath said the district's next step was to meet with their medical experts and formulate a plan to ensure the well-being of the students.

After development of that plan, information was then passed onto parents and others.

Although McElrath declined to speculate how long the mold might have been in the affected areas, he said, "Anytime we identify mold or mildew on walls, we move immediately to address it. We do feel we responded in as timely a fashion as practical given the work we needed to complete in order to give a comprehensive response to the parents."

Better than a Bumper Sticker

State begins production of Callicott license plates.

By Mary Cashiola

Despite not meeting a pre-established quota, Memphis artist Burton Callicott joins such things as horses, cats, and the University of Tennessee logo on the backs of automobiles.

The production of the "art is ... a rainbow" license plate honoring Callicott was officially announced earlier this week. The plate, based on the works of Callicott, was given special consideration by the Tennessee legislature.

"The legislature introduced 28 new specialty license plates and, at the same time, they sort of grandfathered in the Burton Callicott plate," said Dennis Adkins, communications director for the Tennessee Arts Commission.

The state's arts commission has been working on getting the Callicott plate into production for almost a year now. Five hundred plates were supposed to be pre-sold before the plate could go into production.

"We had sold about 320 of the license plates when the legislature approved the new 28," said Adkins. "On the same bill, the legislature lowered the amount of Callicott plates we needed to start production from 500 to 250."

Work on the plate began after a suggestion made by state Senator Steve Cohen. "Callicott is almost a legend in the Memphis area. He's 96 years old; he taught at the Memphis College of Art. ... Senator Cohen wanted to recognize him in some way," said Adkins. "We thought that would be a good way to honor him by producing a license plate."

The pre-ordered plates are already in production, and the commission expects to have the plates available to the general public by next February.

The plates cost $35 plus the wheel tax. There are more than 100 specialty license plates currently available, many with proceeds benefiting the Tennessee Arts Commission.

All future specialty license plates will need 1,000 pre-ordered before they go into production.

Flunking Out

State report cards show low grades for city schools.

By Mary Cashiola

The Tennessee Department of Education released its school report cards Tuesday, with more than three times the data it has reported in the past. But as in the past, Memphis students can't seem to make the grades.

Middle-school students in the district fared the worst, garnering Fs in reading, math, science, and social studies. In language arts, they earned a D. Making the picture even more dismal are the value-added scores, which compare the change in scores from year to year. In value-added reading, math, and science scores, middle-schoolers had three more Fs. They got a D in value-added language arts and a C as their value-added social studies score.

Elementary school students in Memphis received Fs in reading, science, and social studies and Ds in language arts and math. The value-added scores showed Cs in reading, math, and science, with an F in language arts and a D in social studies.

Shelby County elementary school students received As and Bs in both subject areas and value-added scores, with the exception of an F in the value-added language arts score.

Individually, only 20 schools in the city district escaped without any failing grades: Campus School, Central High, Colonial Middle, Craigmont High, Delano, Idlewild Elementary, John P. Freeman, Kirby High, Manor Lake Elementary, Overton High, Ridgeway High, Rozelle Elementary, Shady Grove Elementary, Shelby Oaks Elementary, Snowden, Oak Forest, Vollentine,White Station Elementary, White Station Middle, and White Station High.

Union or Bust

Ministers increase the scope of their boycott against Fred's.

By Janel Davis

A coalition of Memphis ministers expanded its boycott of Fred’s Inc. to a second location on Wednesday, November 20th, this time at the store next door to the company’s headquarters at 4300 Getwell Rd.
Dr. LaSimba Gray, of the Ecumenical Task Force, said the boycotts are designed to be “economical withdrawals” to keep customers from shopping in the stores.
The protests stem from allegations of unlawful termination and mistreatment by several employees of the company’s distribution center. Employees voted in May to organize a union to address “injustices,” including low wages, lack of respect, and substandard benefits. Jimi Williams of UNITE, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees, said Fred’s refused to accept the vote “and filed 17 rejectionable charges against the [formation] with the National Labor Relations Board [NLRB].” The NLRB overturned Fred’s objections, finding them to have no credibility, and the company appealed.
“When [the objections were overturned] that’s when it got worse,” said distribution center employee Amirah Burnett. The two-year center stocker was terminated for arguing with a fellow employee. “[The company] played favorites. I was fired but they let the other person stay.” Burnett and Latoya Myles, who was also terminated, described the worsening situation, citing a change in attitude by management and a strict attendance policy for some employees.
The Ecumenical Task Force held its first boycott of the company Saturday at the Northgate Shopping Plaza store location. About 60 employees and clergy held picket signs and chanted as several potential customers turned away from the store. “We will not encourage a strike,” said Williams. “As Pastor Gray has said from the beginning, this is an economical withdrawal from Fred’s stores.”
The Task Force’s demands included Fred’s reinstating unfairly terminated employees, immediate recognition of the worker’s union, withdrawal of all objections and settlement of nine open cases before the NLRB, and immediate negotiations with the union for a fair contract.
“The management of Fred’s will not listen to workers or the clergy, but Fred’s listens to money,” said Gray at a previous press conference. “As Fred’s watches its sales drop, we believe the company will see the wisdom in treating workers fairly and with dignity.”
Several calls to the company’s representative legal counsel, the Kullman Firm, were unreturned.

The Flower Wilts

Downtown cafe closes its doors after 30 years.

By Janel Davis

The Yellow Rose Cafe, a mainstay of the downtown Court Square area, will serve its last meal at the end of the month, ending a 30-year history of home cooking.

Joe and Becky Keating, the cafe's owners for the past 15 years, said the lack of downtown traffic forced the restaurant's demise. "A lot of the offices that contributed to our clientele have moved out east," said Becky. "And the spotlight on dining has shifted to Peabody Place and Beale Street. There was no way we could continue to stay in business."

The restaurant, located at 58 N. Main, has a staff of 10, including some cooks who have been with the restaurant 20 or more years.

"You got to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em," said Becky. "It was a decision we had to make, and we will miss the many friends we've made over the years."

The Yellow Rose's last day will be Friday, November 29th.

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