By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Beauty School Dropouts
HISD might close little-used school
By Margaret Downing
Are classes in haircuts and skin care — especially if students are not actually going to pursue that as a career — really the best use of a kid's high school years?
Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier asked that question at a recent workshop agenda meeting, focusing on the cosmetology program at the CLC (Contemporary Learning Center).
"Our staff has been looking at the school," Grier told trustees, and the findings so far have him a little uneasy.
"If you are going to take cosmetology...what percentage of those students are going on to a career in cosmetology?" he asked. He said it would be fine with him if it was all, or 90 percent or even 50 percent, "but when you talk about none or two kids...then the question comes back to why."
The alternative learning center in the Third Ward has a new principal and added emphasis this year on before- and after-school tutoring and Saturday sessions, trustees were assured. A check of its profile on the HISD Web site shows it was academically unacceptable in the 2006-7 school year, but worked out of that.
Grier still questioned its basic mission, describing its course offerings as "not green technology, not where we're going in the future."
The superintendent said the answer he gets when he asks about the school's mission is "We want to give kids something they can do with their hands." His response: "We want to give kids something to do with their minds."
Trustee Larry Marshall told Grier he'd been misinformed about CLC's past. He said rather than some sort of alternative school of last resort, "It was really for bright kids who were turned off with school," and noted that "Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby's daughter went there."
"Somebody has watered it down," Marshall said.
Kids Dig the Goatee
By Richard Connelly
An eighth-grade history teacher sporting an allegedly hip goatee, who also likes to play a little online sci-fi games?
Mr. Cool. All the kids probably like him.
The cops aren't so hot on him, though, especially the one who posed online as a 14-year-old female. A 14-year-old female who allegedly got lewd photos from Thomas Calvin Vickers, 42, as he was soliciting her for sex. KTRK reported that officers from the Precinct 4 Constable's office and Conroe ISD arrested Vickers without incident.
Vickers's LinkedIn page says he's a teacher at Conroe ISD's Moorhead Junior High; we're sure the name of the high school is never used in any kind of witty sexual repartee.
The page also shows Vickers is a member of a LinkedIn group devoted to Traveller RPG, which is an online gamer kind of thing. He also was part of a State Board of Education committee on standardized test revisions for seventh-grade history, so if the new standards include a lot of late-night online counseling between kids and hip teachers, you know who to blame.
A spokesman for the Harris County DA's office tells Hair Balls that Vickers has been charged with online solicitation of a minor and promoting child pornography.
Vickers allegedly showed a webcam video of himself masturbating to the person he believed was a 14-year-old girl, and a video of another, possibly underage, girl masturbating.
On the other hand, all this is just alleged, of course. So there's that.
By Chris Vogel
Think all those toxic chemicals stockpiled at industrial plants around Houston are safe and secure? Well, think again.
According to Greenpeace, the giant holding tanks and railroad cars full of hazardous materials are ripe for disaster — be it by terrorist attack or work-related accident — potentially harming hundreds of thousands of local residents.
To prove its point, the national environmental advocacy group recently inspected the Dow Chemical plant in Freeport, one of the largest chemical manufacturing facilities in the world.
"There was no security whatsoever," John Deans of Greenpeace tells Hair Balls. "There were railcars with stickers on them saying 'Inhalation hazard,' and the only thing standing in between us and it was a little ditch, and we just didn't want to get our feet wet to walk across."
Deans says one of the railcars was full of ethylene oxide, a recognized carcinogen, which is used to make a compound chemical that helps produce consumer products such as plastic bottles, clothing, furniture, detergents and automotive coolants.
After inspecting the Dow facility, which spans more than 5,000 acres and has 65 production plants, Greenpeace issued a report, essentially flunking the chemical security at the plant.
One issue of contention is the possible worst-case scenario. The facility is required to give the EPA such an assessment, which, according to Greenpeace, states that the release of 23,000 pounds of phosgene would potentially be felt 25 miles from the plant, impacting 131,000 people. Phosgene, a possible respiratory toxicant, was used as a chemical weapon during World War I and today is a building block to make plastics and pesticides.
Greenpeace says that the data is misleading, because it only accounts for a single holding container and not the total amount of dangerous stuff kept on site. The group says that the plant stores eight times as much phosgene as detailed in the facility's worst-case scenario, and that the scenario does not address the 7.6 million pounds of chlorine gas stored there.