Thursday, February 5, 2009

Dispatch Editor and Son Testified for MV School Board

The following testimony took place on 10/31/08—this article relies on the court transcript for details of the testimony.

Paul Souhrada works as the state editor for The Columbus Dispatch. Souhrada and his son Simon testified during the sixth day of the John Freshwater contract termination hearing (10/31/08).

In April of 2006, Souhrada filed a complaint with the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education over a handout from Freshwater’s eighth-grade science class. Souhrada’s son was one of “five current or former students of Freshwater” that H.R. On Call, Inc interviewed for its investigative report.

Dispatch reporter Dean Narciso wrote about Souhrada’s testimony in an article titled “Mount Vernon Teacher’s Hearing: Second student tells of burning.” Narciso acknowledged in the article that Souhrada is an editor at the Dispatch but wrote that Souhrada “has not been involved in the assigning or editing of stories about Freshwater.”

The focus of Souhrada’s testimony was on the handout and the complaint he filed. David Millstone, attorney for the school board, asked Souhrada what his concern was about the handout. “Well, I believe this is a creationist theory of Darwin's theory of evolution,” Souhrada replied.

(I do not have a copy of the handout, [see the update at the end of the article] but the HR On Call report says that the handout was titled, "Darwin's Theory of Evolution-The Premise and the Problem.”) Souhrada testified that he did some internet research and traced the article to the website

The closest match I was able to find on was a page titled “Darwin's Theory Of Evolution - A Theory in Crisis.” One of the headers on the page uses the phrase “The Premise,” and towards the end of the page, a header uses the phrase “A Theory In Crisis.” When checking for older versions of this page on the WayBackMachine, I found they had archived the versions from November 03, 2004, July 21, 2007 – February 10, 2008. The dates closest to the alleged download of the document never showed the page as titled as alleged.

The article on does not teach creationism or intelligent design—it explains Darwin’s theory of evolution and some of the problems with it including quotes from Darwin about possible problems with his own theory.

Under cross-examination by Kelly Hamilton, attorney for Freshwater, Souhrada was asked about the school’s response to his complaint—specifically what R. Jeff Maley, then superintendent of schools, wrote to Freshwater in a letter dated June 8, 2006:

Q. “After having read that letter, what's your understanding at this moment as to what the school or the school board or the administration found problematic with John's use of that document?”

A. “That it could not -- it had not passed -- material has not passed the test of scientific review and acceptance of the established scientific community and that he was not to use it.”

Q. “Say anywhere in there that he taught creationism?”

A. “No.”

Q. “Does it rebuke him in any way for teaching creationism?”

A. “No.”

Q. “Does it mention intelligent design?”

A. “No.”

Q. “Does it rebuke him in any way for teaching intelligent design?”

A. “No.”

The testimony of Simon Souhrada—

The Dispatch article on Souhrada’s testimony opened with the statement, “A second student said his eighth-grade science teacher burned a cross on his arm.” A few paragraphs into the article was this, “Simon Souhrada, 17, testified that Freshwater used a high-voltage static-electricity device to burn a cross on his arm four years ago.”

Souhrada did in fact testify that Freshwater put a mark on his arm and that he considered it to be a cross—but did not refer to the mark as a burn. Souhrada instead used the words “mark” and “draw” to describe what the device did.

The Dispatch correctly reported that Souhrada did not think anything of the experience with the Tesla coil at the time and made no complaint to his parents about it. One thing that could have been added is this telling exchange between Hamilton and Souhrada:

Q. “Did you tell your dad that you thought that Mr. Freshwater had perhaps made a cross mark on you?”

A. “Like I said, it didn't -- just didn't register. I didn't think anything of it. It was eighth grade. I said hey, cool, shocky thing made a mark on my arm.”

Q. “Cool shocky thing, is that what you said?”

A. “Didn't know it was a Tesla coil.”

The Dispatch wrote that “the cross stung a little at first, the redness lasted a couple of days, and the mark was gone after a few weeks.” That is basically a correct paraphrase of what Souhrada said—however, compare it to:

Q. “And did it hurt?”

A. “It stung a little when he first did it.”

Q. “Did it hurt afterwards?”

A. “No.”


Q. “You say it lasted a couple days?”

A. “It lasted as very easy to see for a couple days, then faded out. You could kind of see a red outline. If you looked for it, you could find it.”

Another thing that the Dispatch brought up was “Souhrada also recalled overhearing Freshwater tell a group of students, ‘Catholics aren't Christians.’” Emphasis should be placed on “overhearing”:

Q. “Okay. Did -- do you recall did he ever make any comments about Catholics in class?”

A. “Not directly to me. I just happened to overhear him once say that Catholics weren't Christians, and maybe I was eavesdropping.”

Q. “Where did he say that?”

A. “It was just in his classroom after school. I was in there for something else. He was talking to different students. I can't remember the exact context.”

Q. “And what specifically do you recall hearing him say?”

A. “Exact words, I just remember it stuck with me that Catholic aren't Christians.”

What Souhrada overheard was not during a class nor was he close enough to the conversation to know what the context of the comment was. The Dispatch reported that Souhrada—a Catholic—said that, though he remembered the comment, he was not offended by it.

Hamilton inquired into whether Souhrada ever talked with his parents or Freshwater about the incident. Souhrada said that he did not.

Read more about the Dispatch’s involvement in the Freshwater controversy: “Shame on The Columbus Dispatch.”


The following is a copy of the handout mentioned in the article:

(PDF) “Darwin’s Theory of Evolution—The Premise and the Problem"

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