Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Opening Statement by Hamilton

The following took place on 10/2/08—this article relies on the court transcript for details.

The attorney for the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education, David Millstone, declined to give an opening statement when the John Freshwater contract termination hearing began on October 2, 2008.

R. Kelly Hamilton, attorney for Freshwater, did give an opening statement. He outlined the allegations that he would be addressing and what recommendation he was asking the hearing referee to give to the school board upon the completion of the hearing.

During Hamilton’s opening statement, he brought up the issue of the media’s coverage. “Far from as reported in the media, served by the investigation, the allegations against John, Your Honor, are not proven,” Hamilton said.

Millstone also made mention of media inaccuracies during the pre-hearing motions. “With no disrespect to the media, what's reported in the paper is not necessarily accurate. […] I have seen inaccuracy from time to time,” Millstone said.

Hamilton called for the hearing to be conducted in the manner that he said the original investigation had not been—as a thorough investigation into all the evidence:

“We're going to ask you to accept the duty and the responsibility that the Mount Vernon City School System administration did not accept and that the investigator in this situation did not accept, and that is to analyze all of the evidence in a thorough manner. And that in and of that particular presentation, we're going to ask you to evaluate John Freshwater and his performance against the allegations. We are going to ask that you recommend to the school board that he be reinstated with full back pay and be able to continue on with his particular contract.”

Among the allegations Hamilton addressed during his opening remarks was the issue of the alleged burn on Zachary Dennis. “As to him burning a cross on a student's arm, you'll find out that it took 43 days for the principal, Bill White, to even put anything on paper related to that particular incident,” Hamilton said. “The alleged injury was only recharacterized as a cross in this situation only after it was discovered that John Freshwater would not take his Bible off of his public schoolroom teacher's desk.”

Hamilton brought up that Freshwater had complied with the request to remove the Ten Commandment poster and that “there were no other religious items pointed out to him by letter that he should remove at any particular time.”

Hamilton gave an explanation of what happened during the alleged instance of Freshwater praying during an FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) meeting. “As the facilitator, supervisor, monitor of the FCA, John Freshwater had to make a decision,” Hamilton said. “‘How do I appropriately interrupt these students during their student led prayer’, a group of which he was not a participant, ‘and make certain that they get to class on time?’ John Freshwater was appointed as the FCA faculty approved member for the sole reason that he had the sensitivity, the understanding, to respect these particular students and this particular situation. So he interjected and interrupted this particular prayer with an appropriate ‘Amen’ so that the students then would simply get on with going to class. John Freshwater, you're going to learn, never participated nor led a prayer during the FCA meetings.”

“We also have the issue of bias,” Hamilton said. “This investigation […] was designed to reach a predetermined objective. Interestingly, the investigator hired by, again, the school board or the school board's attorney, he chose one evaluation out of all 45 evaluations. He chose the January 21st, 2003, evaluation by principal Jeff Kuntz wherein Principal Kuntz directed John Freshwater, quote, ‘to continue to adhere to board policy and guideline 2270 with respect to religion in the classroom.’ You don't even have to understand the English language very well. If John Freshwater was not adhering to the policy of religion in the classroom, the principal, as an authoritative evaluator and observer, would have said ‘John, start adhering to this particular policy of religion in the classroom.’”

Hamilton listed ten allegations that have been made against Freshwater. “The reality, though, is you have to keep coming back to what makes sense on one hand versus what does not make sense on the other hand,” Hamilton said. “Responding to these specific allegations will be done. They absolutely will be done. We'll do it through every particular witness that the school board presents and we will do it through witnesses that we will call.”

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