City Schools confirms additional shipments of ‘Healthy Holly’ books; no additional copies found

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Baltimore City Public Schools headquarters on North Avenue. Photo by Eli Pousson/Baltimore Heritage, via Flickr.

Baltimore City Public Schools today released a lengthy statement confirming three shipments of “Healthy Holly” books written by Mayor Catherine Pugh, who is currently not serving in an acting capacity.

But the school system said it could not find any records to show a fourth shipment.

Previously, BCPS had only confirmed a single shipment and said 8,700 copies of “Healthy Holly” books remained in a warehouse.

Going back over shipment forms with the book’s printer, Kromar Printing Ltd. in Canada, BCPS confirmed it received a shipment of the “Healthy Holly” titles “Exercising is Fun” in 2011, “A Healthy Start for Herbie” in March 2013 and “Fruits Come in Colors Like the Rainbow” in August 2015.

Staff members “have a high degree of confidence” that the first shipment, for 20,000 copies of the book “Exercising is Fun,” matches a letter from January 2011 that Pugh shared at a press conference last week to detail her business deal with the University of Maryland Medical System, City Schools said. The medical organization bought the books from Pugh, who served on the company’s unpaid board of directors, to distribute them to students in Baltimore schools.

“Several current and former staff members recall this title, and a small number confirm that it was reviewed and determined to be suitable for distribution to students in the lower elementary grades (but not for use as an instructional resource),” the statement said.

“A few” staffers recall distributing “Exercising is Fun” between late 2011, “following the mayoral election, in which then State Senator Pugh had been a candidate in the Democratic primary,” and 2012, the school system said.

There are no records of how many copies were distributed, and BCPS has not been able to locate any copies in storage. Emails are only retained for three years and reports for four years, meaning many records from before 2015 have been destroyed, BCPS said.

Recollections among employees about the second and third titles are a little more hazy.

“Current and former staff members have no recollection of soliciting these titles or reviewing them prior to or following their receipt, nor of any correspondence with the University of Maryland Medical System with respect to a donation of these books,” BCPS said.

The school system has a signed FedEx delivery receipt for the “A Healthy Start for Herbie” books, but no copies have been located and no employees remember distributing the book.

“We are continuing to investigate and to speak with current and former staff members about the circumstances of this shipment.”

In August 2015, City Schools received 19,500 copies of “Fruits Come in Colors Like the Rainbow,” and the entire shipment was sent to a warehouse–and it’s this delivery that accounts for the 8,700 books that remain there.

“We also have no record or recollection of any additional titles in the ‘Healthy Holly’ series or of any contact from the University of Maryland Medical System or Mayor Pugh regarding a potential fourth shipment,” City Schools said.

Starting in August 2015, the school system said, members of Pugh’s staff have gone to the warehouse to retrieve copies of “Healthy Holly” books, but there’s no record of how often they went there and how many copies they took.

BCPS chalked up the earlier recollection of only a single shipment to confusion among staffers about the different titles. Some of them recalled copies–donated by Pugh herself–being distributed at events such as ribbon-cuttings for new buildings. The school system said that accounts for roughly 500 books.

Amid the fallout from the “self-dealing” on the UMMS board, which has ensnared nine members of the 30-person panel in all, Pugh gave a press conference to show shipping forms for three orders of “Healthy Holly” books, totaling a little under 60,000 copies. A fourth order was still in the works, she said. Pugh has also said a fifth order has been cancelled because the person who does layout is sick, and that she returned payment to UMMS.

Pugh reportedly received $500,000 from UMMS for 100,000 copies of “Healthy Holly” books interspersed between 2011 and 2018.

At the press conference, Pugh said she hoped citizens would “find out from the school system where the rest of those books are.” She also apologized for “any lack of confidence or disappointment which this initiative may have caused among Baltimore City residents, friends and colleagues.”

Following a report from The Sun on Monday that found Pugh had also arranged deals to sell books to other medical providers, she took an “indefinite” leave of absence, pointing to a recent an ongoing bout with pneumonia.

Brandon Weigel

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