Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Letter to the Mount Vernon News

The following “letter to the editor” was submitted to the Mount Vernon News on March 30, 2009 in response to an editorial published by the News that same day.

Editor, the News:

The editorial of March 30th was an example of the type of thinking that landed the school system into this lengthy legal process in the first place.

You blamed the legal costs on R. Kelly Hamilton spending time on questions you deemed to be unimportant. The questioning Hamilton has been giving witnesses should have been done before the school board voted to start the process of firing John Freshwater.

In your editorial, you stated that Hamilton wasted 15 minutes asking about the use of quotation marks in the notes of the investigator from H.R. On Call, Inc. Surely the News considers details, like whether it was a person’s exact words or it was a paraphrase, to be important.

In the case of the investigators from HROC, their standard operating procedure was to not allow interviewees to have a chance to look at the handwritten notes made of the interview. Why wouldn’t Freshwater’s attorney spend time examining what the notes were supposed to mean?

Contrast the thoroughness of Hamilton with that of the attorney for the school board, David Millstone. When Zachary Dennis was on the witness stand, Millstone did not even ask him to verify the statement credited to him in the HROC report that the alleged burn to his arm lasted for “three to four weeks.” Millstone also failed to ask Dennis to verify if the photos that have been purported to be of his arm were actually of him.

Does the News really think Hamilton is doing too thorough of a job in representing his client? Maybe instead of questioning Hamilton, the News should be questioning the legal advice that Millstone is giving to the school board.

—Sam Stickle

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Second Student Tells of Seeing Accuser’s Arm without Burn

The following testimony took place between 3:54 P.M. and 4:27 P.M. on 3/26/09—in addition to testimony, this article also relies upon details from the witness’ sworn affidavit.

A possible explanation emerged during the sixteenth day of the John Freshwater hearing as to why Zachary Dennis—who has been used against his teacher in the legal and media battle—was never asked, while he was under oath, to identify the photographs that allegedly show burn marks on his arm.

The student on the witness stand, Ben Nielson, said that upon seeing the photograph published in the newspaper, that was purported to be of his fellow student Dennis’ arm, he said, “That’s not Zach’s arm.”

Photos were included in the report done by H.R. On Call, Inc that have been alleged to be of Dennis’ arm and caused by a Tesla coil. “The pictures below were provided by the parents,” the report stated.

(In an interesting move, the attorney for the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education, David Millstone, chose to not ask Dennis to look at the photos to verify if they were of his arm. Millstone also did not ask Dennis to verify the statement in the HROC report that said the burn marks remained on his arm for “three to four weeks.” The cross examination of Dennis was postponed—these questions may come up when he takes to the witness stand again.)

Nielson said that Freshwater used the Tesla coil during a lesson on the elements and to light up gases. He also said that the students got a chance to be touched by the static electricity device. Before the teacher touched volunteers with it, he first used it on himself by running it across his arm and then grabbing the tip of the device with his hand for five seconds, Nielson said. The student described Freshwater as smiling and laughing while holding onto the Tesla coil.

Nielson was the first volunteer. Freshwater ran the Tesla coil across the underside of his forearm—it did not hurt or sting, Nielson said. When he got back to his seat, he noticed that there was a pinkish reddish mark on his arm. He described it as looking a lot like a cross, but at the intersection, it was a little slanted so it could have been an “X.” Freshwater did not say that he was going to make a cross, Nielson said.

After class, Nielson saw Dennis—who is in a different period of Freshwater’s science class—in the hallway. Nielson said that he showed Dennis his arm and Dennis said that he had the Tesla coil applied to his arm the day before. Dennis told him that it did not really hurt and that the only time he really felt anything was when he was sweating in his hockey pads, Nielson said.

In the sworn affidavit by Nielson, he described comparing arms with Dennis. “When we compared our arms I could barely see any mark on his arm,” Nielson stated. “The mark on Zach’s arm was hardly visible. The mark on my arm was ten (10) times redder and much bigger than the mark on Zach’s arm.”

Nielson said that neither his arm nor Dennis’ arm had any raised or blistered skin. Within a day, Nielson said that the mark on his arm was gone.

The report by HROC also accused Freshwater of teaching creationism. Nielson said that Freshwater never pushed creationism or intelligent design in the classroom.

Another claim made by the HROC report concerned praying during a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) meeting. “Mr. Freshwater participated and possibly lead a prayer during an FCA meeting that concerned a guest speaker’s health,” the report stated. “There is no conclusion as to whether such prayer was a ‘healing’ prayer.”

Nielson said that he was there during the alleged incident. The report identifies the “guest speaker” as being Pastor Zirkle—who happens to be Nielson’s youth pastor from Lakeholm Church of the Nazarene. Nielson stated in the sworn affidavit that he was the one who led that prayer:

“Zach Dennis and Dan Eddy were not at this meeting. About 18 students were there. Pastor Steve (Zirkle) is my youth pastor and he had just come from a doctor’s appointment and needed some kind of surgery. Students gathered around Pastor Steve to say a ‘popcorn’ prayer which is a prayer where anybody can pray. I lead the prayer for Pastor Steve and was excited to do so. I think Macy Malone maybe prayed. I do not remember 100% if Mr. Freshwater prayed then or at any other time. At most I am 50/50 whether Mr. Freshwater ever prayed. I know Mr. Freshwater did not make anybody pray at any meeting.”

Nielson said that if Freshwater had done anything that he thought was wrong, he would have reported it.

Nielson was one of the “five current or former students of Mr. Freshwater” that were interviewed by HROC. The investigators’ SOP was to not give interviewees a chance to look at the handwritten notes that were made of their statements or to make corrections to the notes. The investigators did not take a sworn statement from Nielson.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

School Administrator: Dishes It Out, but Can’t Take It

The following testimony took place between 9:59 A.M. and 3:36 P.M. on 3/26/09.

The school administrator testified in the hearing that she “might” have told the investigators from H.R. On Call, Inc that teacher John Freshwater was from a fundamental church with an extreme approach to the Bible. She never attended any services at Freshwater’s church but said that the school board received a letter from the church’s pastor a few years ago that she took negatively.

It was enough, Dr. Lynda Weston said, that she knew people who did attend there. Fundamental churches “adhere to certain philosophy and interpretations and things of that sort,” Weston said.

R. Kelly Hamilton, attorney for Freshwater, then asked Weston if she attended a “fundamental” church.

Weston objected to the question.

At this point, the hearing referee, R. Lee Shepherd, told Weston that he decided what a relevant question was—and that she did have to answer the question.

Weston muttered something.

The answer Weston ended up giving was that she belonged to a “congregational church” and that she did not think they describe themselves as fundamental.

She added that being “fundamental”, “liberal” or “conservative” determines or influences how a person teaches in the classroom. In her church, they would believe that intelligent design and creationism are religious issues—a person can have a belief in God and science as a separate entity, Weston said.

Following this exchange, a ten minute break was taken. During the break, Weston requested taking lunch break sooner than planned, which the referee agreed to.

Weston, formerly Director of Teaching and Learning at Mount Vernon City Schools, Ohio, was in administrative work with the school for ten years. Hamilton said that the report by HROC referred to Weston more than anyone else.

Mystery Student—

Hamilton asked Weston about a statement by HROC that there was allegedly a student negatively impacted on their learning by Freshwater.

Weston replied that that story was told to her by a third party—so has no names of the parents or the student. Allegedly, Freshwater asked for a show of hands from his class of those that believed in evolution; one student raised her hand and Freshwater said, “We will see about that.”

Weston has no evidence for the story but still insisted that it was true. She said that she is certain there is a girl from Freshwater’s class that felt insulted for having said she believes in evolution. Weston was not even able to remember who told her the story.

Religious Displays—

Weston defined a religious display as something that brings students’ attention to information that is religious, be that the Koran or a Christmas display.

Weston never saw any Bibles on desks at the middle school—including Freshwater’s desk.

Deciding whether it would be appropriate to post one Bible verse in a classroom would depend heavily on the purpose of having the verse there, Weston said.

Weston was shown a 4*6 photo of the Colin Powell/George Bush poster. She did not remember seeing this poster before. She said the photo was too small to read the words on it. The poster shows Colin Powell and President Bush in prayer. Written at the top of the poster is a portion of James 5:16: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

Controversial Issues—

If a student asks about Easter or Good Friday, Weston said she would respond with information as to where the student could find answers on this topic, such as church resources and internet resources. She would assume that the student already knew he could ask his parents about those topics—it would be OK to suggest to the student that he talk to his parents, Weston said.

When students challenge a teacher on something, the teacher needs to respect the difference of opinion, Weston said. The teacher should then share with them what the accepted science is on the topic, if it is a science subject, Weston said.

Freshwater continued to teach science in a non scientific way, according to Weston. She said that at the eighth-grade level of Freshwater’s class, it is not appropriate to teach them controversy or critical thinking. She based this statement on her experience in elementary education and child development psychology.

In the school setting controversial issues can be taught, Weston said, if they are taught fairly and are based on established information. In such cases, she said that both or multiple sides of the issue need to be looked at.

H.R. On Call Report (HROC)—

Weston said that she has no knowledge as to why she was not called as a witness for the school board during their case-in-chief.

Weston said she was present during two different meetings with HROC—in between those two meetings she prepared a three page statement of her recollections of things related to Freshwater which she said was to make sure she had dates and information correct. She received a subpoena to turn over all documents related to the Freshwater matter to Hamilton. She understood the request, but turned the three page document in question over to the attorney for the school board, David Millstone, instead of Hamilton.

Hamilton asked Weston if she made the statement that is credited to her in the HROC report, that says, “Dr. Weston stated that she has had to deal with internal and external complaints about [Freshwater’s] failure to follow the curriculum for much of her 11 years at Mount Vernon.”

Weston said that she did make the statement—but upon reading it, when the report came out, she was frustrated with herself for having said it. It is an inaccurate statement. She notified the school in the summer of 2008 that she was adjusting that statement, Weston said.

The complaints about Freshwater, that Weston has, start in 2002. She said that the other complaints were ones she heard from other teachers, but has no personal knowledge of them.

Weston gave a list of five teachers and one family, Souhrada, who she said made complaints to her. She knows of no other people who made complaints to her.

Weston admitted that she never asked those five complaining teachers if they ever spent any time in Freshwater’s classroom. Weston said that her role was not in the supervising of teachers and that she had never been in Freshwater’s classroom.

The only documentation of those complaints were emails from two of the people and a handout that allegedly came from Freshwater’s class. She said she could not recall any further documentation of those six complaints. (Later in her testimony, she said she saw a couple more handouts—this may have been related to complaints that were not told to her by the complaining parties.)

Weston said that she thinks that the handouts create a body of evidence and that there is no need to research each one, no need to find out how they were used in the class—she knows that they were used, because they were in the students hands.

Weston said that Freshwater was being “underhanded” because of the handouts and because of having students question the textbook when the textbook did not match his philosophy. She has not talked to Freshwater about his philosophy, Weston admitted.

Hamilton reviewed Weston’s past job performance evaluations. One evaluation mentioned “importance of follow-up depending on item of information.” Weston said that she did not remember why that was in the review, but said that she does not think she has a pattern of problems with follow-up. “I believe I follow-up on things,” Weston said. She went on to add that people assume she had responsibility for things that she did not have responsibility for.

One of the evaluations of Weston mentioned “improving conflict resolution.” There was also a mention of “understanding how change impacts people.” Weston said that these evaluations are several years old. (Weston said that some or all—[note: not sure which ones she was referring to]—of the things in those evaluations did not show up again in future evaluations.)

Weston said that she did not tell HROC that Freshwater was not allowed to be teaching on evolution. She agreed that the eighth-grade content standards for science teachers include teaching evolution.

Zachary Dennis—

Weston said that she was not involved in the investigation of the alleged burn on Zachary Dennis’ arm. She said she saw the photos in the newspaper.

Weston said that she was the one who ran the child abuse prevention training for the school system. Training would be offered each year to make sure new teachers had their training. Weston said that reporting of the incident to Children’s Services would be required.

Andrew Thomson—

When Hamilton asked Weston if she knew a person by the name of Andrew Thomson, she immediately began to become emotional. She said that Thomson means a lot to her. Hamilton quickly asked Weston if she needed a ten minute break, but she responded that she thought she could keep going.

Thomson spoke at the August 4th school board meeting.

(Video of Andrew Thomson, he is the first person to speak on this video.)

Weston described Thomson as speaking in favor of Freshwater at the August 4th school board meeting. She talked with Thomson afterwards and told him that what he said took a lot of courage—she also said that during that time period Thomson was questioning whether or not he should remain a teacher, so Weston talked to him about staying in teaching, Weston said. She also said she told Thomson that there had been a lot heard on both sides in the Freshwater matter.

Freshwater’s 2003 Proposal—

Weston said that Freshwater did well with bringing his proposal in 2003 and that he handled it in the manner a teacher should. She said that the decision about that proposal made it very clear how Intelligent Design should be handled.

The curriculum committee did not approve the proposal—they decided that ID is not testable, or measurable, said they already teach critical thinking, and that ID was religious, Weston said.

Weston said that Tim Kieb—because he came from the same religious philosophy as Freshwater—told her he would talk to Freshwater and help him understand the difference between public education and religion.

After that proposal, Weston said she never asked Freshwater if he was teaching ID—she said that was not her job. What she did do was to provide opportunity of training for Freshwater. She did not talk to Freshwater about the handouts.

Weston claimed that Freshwater’s colleagues had trouble talking with him because he was so set in his ways about what science was. She offered as evidence of this that Freshwater did not attend the professional development meeting/training—but it was not required for him to attend.

Weston said that she found the handouts that she received from other people to be pretty much first hand information.

The only occasions that Weston heard Freshwater speak about ID and creationism was at meetings—she did not speak to him personally about the subject.

Weston’s “Concern”—

The HROC report contained this sentence credited to Weston: “She stated Mr. Freshwater has a lot of influence with his students that causes her concern.”

Weston said that she did make this statement. If students are taught something that is wrong they will believe it—she was concerned that Freshwater was causing his students “intellectual” harm.

Weston said that her retirement from the school district is final and that she has to be out of her office by April 1st.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

“Bible on the Desk” Teacher Was Singled Out, Witness Says

The following testimony took place 1:42 P.M.—3:56 P.M. on 3/25/09 and 9:02 A.M.—9:46 A.M. on 3/26/09.

She tried to read the investigative report last summer about her colleague, John Freshwater, but the bias and slant of it disgusted her. It was at that time that she learned she was also doing some of the same things as Freshwater—when she taught science, she used the Tesla coil and she had a Bible on her desk.

Seventh-grade teacher Lori Miller said that during the last three years she has learned more about Freshwater. When her classroom was near his, Miller said she saw Freshwater greeting every one of his students as they came to class. Freshwater even went so far in his efforts to connect with the kids that he asked Miller to look at his eighth-grade student list so he could learn about them from her.

While giving her testimony at the Freshwater hearing, Miller gave her take on the Mount Vernon City Schools’ dealings with Freshwater. “He has been singled out,” Miller said. “The biggest thing is that I still have a Bible on my desk and the administrators know this—and I haven’t been asked to remove it.”

During a meeting on August 21, 2008, Superintendent Steve Short told Miller that she could keep the Bible on her desk, Miller said.

Attorney for the school board, David Millstone, acknowledged—upon listening to an audio recording Miller made of the meeting in question— that Short said she could keep the Bible on her desk until the school board said otherwise.

The Bible is not the only religious item in Miller’s classroom. She also keeps several devotional books on her desk and a rock that has Philippians 4:13 on it: “I can do all things through Christ who strengths me.” Children come up, see the rock and comment that they like the verse, Miller said.

A bulletin board in her classroom was deemed by the school to be a “religious display” and she was asked to remove the items from the board, Miller said. The items on the board included the daily notes that her husband would write her that included a Bible verse.

Attorney for Freshwater, R. Kelly Hamilton, asked Miller about the Colin Powell/George Bush poster. Miller said she remembers the poster being distributed at the school and that she used to have one in her classroom until it was lost three years ago when she switched rooms.

Before the recent controversy came out, she would say things to her class on a regular basis that were praises to the Lord. She even prayed with kids—be that at lunch time, in the hallway, when students would ask her for prayer or when she felt led to pray for them and so asked them if she could. Miller said that at the time she did not think there was anything wrong with this.

At the end of the school year, Miller said that the mother of one student wrote her and thanked her for being such a good influence.

Miller no longer prays with the students.

After Freshwater refused to remove the Bible from his desk, last April, an allegation emerged that the use of a Tesla coil in his science classroom resulted in a student being burned.

Miller said that when she taught science, she also used the Tesla coil—she gave an estimate of zapping 300 to 400 student volunteers with the device. She first used it on herself before asking who wanted to try it out. The zap only lasted for a fraction of a second as she briefly touched the arc to the student’s arm. Miller said that she did not attempt to create any drawings with it.

The students loved the Tesla coil and would have used it every day if she let them, Miller said.

Miller was shown the school board exhibits of the alleged photos of Zachary Dennis’ arm with burn marks from a Tesla coil. “In all my experiences of using it I have not seen anything even remotely like this,” Miller said. She told about seeing the photos on television and thinking that mark was self induced or caused by something else.

Hamilton asked her if it is appropriate for a teacher to question the textbook. Miller said that she’s had incidences where she found the textbook to be wrong such as once when the textbook gave the weight of an Ostrich egg incorrectly. She told the students, that, “Hey, you have to watch out for stuff like this.”

She went on to explain the importance of this. “They need to know that just because it is printed in the textbook, that doesn’t mean it is right,” Miller said.


Teachers Can Respond To Controversial Questions

The following testimony took place between 9:04 A.M. and 12:27 P.M. on 3/25/09.

It is OK for students to bring up controversial issues about evolution and teachers are allowed to respond to the credibility of the information, said former superintendent of the Mount Vernon City Schools, Jeff Maley.

During day fifteen of the John Freshwater hearing, Maley was questioned about his knowledge of Freshwater’s conduct, the use of supplemental teaching material, what an appropriate response would be to an allegation of a child being injured and how religion should be dealt with in the public school system.

Maley said he became superintendent around 2000 and continued until August 31, 2007 when he retired. He was superintendant in 2003 when Freshwater submitted a proposal to “teach the controversy” surrounding origin-of-life science. Maley said that he did not believe his handling of matters related to Freshwater cost him his job.

While Maley was OK with a teacher responding to students questions concerning evolution, his position is that “the other side” is not science and that the response by the teacher should be brief. Anytime that a student brings up something that is not commonly accepted, the teacher can tell the student that it is not accepted science, Maley said.

In a situation where the teacher is giving a lesson on the lunar cycle, the spring equinox and how those determine when Easter and Good Friday are—the teacher may answer questions by the students, Maley said. The question’s relevance to the class should determine how much time to spend on it. He said that he would tell students that those holidays are celebrated in many different ways and that the students should talk to their parents about the subject.

Maley acknowledged that sometimes a teacher will not know if an answer to a controversial question is appropriate until after the answer is given. He found that the problem would arise if a teacher had a reoccurring problem in how he or she answered those questions.

A teacher would not need to get permission before bringing supplemental teaching material into the classroom, Maley said, as long as it supported the content standards. He explained that it would be impossible to manage five-hundred teachers everyday if they brought all of their supplemental materials for review. Anyone that encountered the material could raise questions about it, be that student or parent, but the teacher has the primary responsibility to make sure the material is appropriate, Maley said.

Maley was shown the school board exhibits of the alleged photos of Zachary Dennis’ arm with burn marks from a Tesla coil. During his time as superintendant, Maley said that he never heard of students being shocked. He could not tell from the photos if it was an arm of a child or not, and was unable to judge whether it was an injury, but he said that the markings on the arm were not normal.

If he was told by parents that the markings were made by an electrostatic device, he would investigate. He added that he would also do it as quickly as possible because the injury could heal. One of the things he said his investigation would include is looking at the actual arm itself, and not just the photos.

The only complaint about religious displays in the school system during his time as superintendant was at the high school. He said that students in Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) had signs on their lockers that included crosses.

Maley said that he had no knowledge of the Colin Powell/President Bush poster being on display at the school. If he had seen it, his instructions would have been to cut the top of the poster off—the portion with James 5:16: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

R. Kelly Hamilton, attorney for Freshwater, grilled Maley over what his bases was for finding the quote inappropriate. He admitted that he was not certain what “James” referred to, but he was almost certain that it was religious and from the Bible. As a superintendant, he said he would have researched the source and found out if it was religious.

Hamilton asked Maley if a teacher could safely assume that the poster was approved to be displayed if it arrived through their school mailbox. Maley replied that one of the teachers should have gone to the principal and asked who sent it.

Hamilton then asked Maley if a teacher could safely assume that the poster was approved to be displayed if the assistant principal had one in his office and signed some of the posters. Maley replied that he would have dealt with that assistant principal.

Maley said that he never knew of Bibles on teachers’ desks. He said that he would have a problem with a teacher having a Bible, or Koran, sitting on their desk, because it might influence students—even if the teacher said that it was his inspiration. “Once the issue is broached, they all need to be removed,” Maley said.

During his time as superintendant, he only had knowledge of three issues regarding Freshwater, all of which he said were resolved.

He said that he did make a comment to the investigator from H.R. On Call Inc. about trying to find Freshwater a job other than teaching science. Based on past conversation with Freshwater, he believes Freshwater does have a difficulty resolving his philosophy with that of the scientific community over the issue of evolution. Maley deemphasized the significance of that attempt to find Freshwater another position, saying that it was just his way of trying to help a teacher out.

Hamilton asked Maley if he would be surprised to learn that Freshwater’s students passed with an 86 percent on life science issues. That didn’t surprise him. “I would expect John Freshwater’s students to do well,” Maley said. Everything he said he knows about Freshwater “is that he is very good at conveying knowledge.”

Monday, March 23, 2009

Alleged Burn Should Have Lasted Longer, Expert Witness Says

The following testimony took place on 10/30/08—this article relies on the court transcript for details of the testimony.

Following the refusal of middle school teacher John Freshwater to remove the Bible from his desk, an allegation emerged that the use of a Tesla coil in his science classroom resulted in a student being burned.

An expert witness brought by the school testified that an injury like that depicted in photos he was shown, of the alleged burn, would take “three to four weeks” to heal. The student, Zachary Dennis, and his parents have made no claim under oath that the burn lasted any longer than twenty-four hours. (See update at end of article.)

Dr. David Levy testified during the fifth day of the Freshwater hearing on behalf of the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education. He is currently chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Saint Elizabeth Health Center in Youngstown. Levy said that he did not have any training in forensic analysis of pictures.

Attorney for Freshwater, R. Kelly Hamilton, questioned Levy over his ability to come to a conclusion about what happened based on two photographs:

Q. “My question specifically to you, Doctor, is, could somebody create that particular marking to make it look like a burn but it not actually be a burn?”

A. “I imagine it's possible.”

Q. “You can't tell from a deduction of medical evidence as to whether or not that is a fabrication or it is a reality from an electrical instrument, correct?”

A. “Without seeing the arm itself, I could not.”


Q. “Would you agree that the best evidence for your review is to see the injury firsthand, correct?”

A. “Yes.”

Q. “And seeing it by pictures makes it more difficult to grasp the nature of the injury?”

A. “Yes.”


Q. “Can you tell the age of the person by looking at that arm in that picture?”

A. “No.”

The only expert opinion Levy was able to offer depended on the veracity of the photos. “As I testified, to me,” Levy said, “just from the pictures itself, it looks like a superficial second-degree burn which implies not only the epidermis, the outer skin layers involved, but a small portion of the dermis. Since there wasn't any blistering I see in the picture, it wouldn't be a deep second-degree burn.”

Previously, when Dennis testified, he credited sweating and the hockey equipment he was wearing during practice that day as causing the mark to worsen.

Hamilton asked Levy about this possibility. Levy said that sweating during practice would not do this but that equipment rubbing up against a burn might.

Levy testified that a burn from electricity depends on several factors including the duration of the contact. “It would depend on the resistance of the tissue, the ratio of contact […], voltage and also current flow,” Levy said.

Back in August 4th 2008 one of Freshwater’s fellow teachers, Lori Miller, spoke before the school board and said that she has used the Tesla coil in the same manner that Freshwater has without incident. “I have never had a concern or an issue with it and I cannot honesty comprehend how that device can burn an individual as alleged,” Miller said.

A lawsuit filed by Freshwater on June 9, 2009, contains information about what Dennis testfied to the second time he was on the witnes stand: "The alleged student who Defendant Board claimed had a mark on their arm for three-to-four (3-4) weeks most recently testified in the hearing on May 7, 2009, that the mark lasted 'About a week and a half, two weeks.'"

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Teacher’s Accusers Tell Different Story Under Oath

The following testimony took place on 10/28/08—this article relies on the court transcript for details of the testimony.

Missing from the testimony of Zachary Dennis was the claim credited to him by the H.R. On Call, Inc. investigative report that the mark from the Tesla coil remained on his arm for “approximately three to four weeks.”

During the third day of the John Freshwater contract termination hearing, Dennis only made the allegation that the mark was still there during the first night.

When The Columbus Dispatch published their article on Dennis’ testimony, “Tool left no mark, teacher says,” they reported the story as if Dennis testified the same as what the HR On Call report has him saying. “Dennis said the mark on his forearm caused pain and was visible for about three weeks,” the Dispatch wrote.

Dennis described the purpose of the Tesla coil as being “to light up gases” during science demonstrations. “Mr. Freshwater put tubes of gases on the ground,” Dennis said, “and he would take the coil and light the end up of it. And it would light up kind of like neon.”

At the end of the science lesson Freshwater asked for volunteers who wanted to be marked with the Tesla coil, Dennis said. He went on to explain that they also performed the Daisy chain experiment with the device. “The students got in a line and held hands,” Dennis said. “And he shocked one student, and we could see how far the electrical would go through so many people.”

Dennis alleged that Freshwater said the marks on the students’ arms were going to be there for awhile and that Freshwater referred to them as crosses. Dennis also claimed that Freshwater held his arm down while the Tesla coil was used on him.

(Another student—Corbin Douglas Heck on 2/27/09—who was there when Dennis had the Tesla coil applied to him, reported sitting at the front of the class and that he did not hear Freshwater refer to the mark as a cross or see Freshwater hold anyone’s arm down.)

Following school that day, Dennis went to hockey practice and credits the equipment he was wearing as causing the mark to worsen. “It was a burning sensation, and it was irritated from my equipment and sweat,” Dennis said.

The report by HR On Call said that Freshwater discussed Easter in his class during a lesson on the phases of the moon. “While it may have been for only a minute or two, he did discuss the meaning of Easter and Good Friday with at least one of his classes,” the report stated.

Attorney for the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education, David Millstone, asked Dennis about instances of religion in Freshwater’s classroom. Dennis’ explanation of what happened during the Easter discussion gives telling details:

A. “We talked about Easter and Good Friday.”

Q. “And when did that come up?”

A. “I think -- it came up before Easter, that weekend, or that Friday before the weekend of Easter.”

Q. “Okay. And what was -- had you been studying the movement of the moon at the time?”

A. “Yes.”

Q. “And had Mr. Freshwater given you an assignment with respect to the movement of the moon and understanding how the tide changes?”

A. “Yeah. We had to find out when Easter would be due to the moon and the calendar.”

Q. “Okay. And then what was the discussion about Easter that happened after that?”

A. “He asked us what Good Friday was. And I believe I answered that and --”

Q. “What was your answer?”

A. “That it was when Jesus died for our sins. And Mr. Freshwater said that it should be called the greatest Friday or the best Friday ever. And then he asked what Easter was, and someone said when Jesus was resurrected.”

Other statements by Dennis: That Freshwater said a few words while a student was praying during a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) meeting; that Freshwater gave Bibles to those in attendance at an FCA meeting; that Freshwater showed a movie about the creation of the earth and a watchmaker; that Freshwater showed a movie in class about a mission trip he had been on to an orphanage in Romania; that Freshwater showed a movie about himself as a fire jumper; that students in Freshwater’s class would use the word “here” in reference to things in the textbook that were stated as fact but were not necessarily proven; that he was given an extra credit assignment to go and see the movie Expelled and write a paragraph about it; that it was Freshwater’s habit to have students return material that was handed out in class—such as information about Albert Einstein and sound waves.

Cross examination was postponed due to Jennifer Dennis’, mother of Zachary Dennis, interview with The Columbus Dispatch“Teacher's accusers pushing for safeguards”—that was published that day, which brought the additional allegation that her son’s arm was held down while the Tesla coil was applied to his arm.

The testimony of Jennifer Dennis—

Jennifer Dennis described seeing the mark on her son’s arm. Dennis—who said she has a medical background as a scrub tech in surgery at KCH and several other places—decided her son did not need to see a doctor. “To me, it looked like an oven burn, extreme sunburn, something of that nature,” Dennis said. “And I believe my feeling was that the mark would be gone in the morning, so my husband and I took pictures with my digital camera.”

The report by HR On Call claimed that, in addition to Zachary, his parents made the statement that the burn lasted three to four weeks. Dennis testified that the mark was still there the next morning, did not say how visible it was, and made no statement about it being on her son’s arm any longer than that.

The federal lawsuit filed in June 2008 by the Dennis family, and the amended version of September 2008, do not contain the allegation that the mark lasted for three to four weeks.

The Dispatch, however, reported in the article that was published just prior to Dennis testifying, that she told the Dispatch the alleged burn lasted longer. “She said that it lasted for more than three weeks,” the Dispatch wrote.

In her testimony, Dennis said that the next morning she took the photos of her son’s arm to Steve Short, superintendent of the Mount Vernon School District. At the time, she told Short that she did not want to see Freshwater fired over this. “I just felt this was not a good situation, and I was concerned,” Dennis said.

The lawsuit by the Dennis family, which reads as a diatribe, mentions towards the end that Freshwater has not been fired yet. “Defendant Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education was negligent in its supervision and retention of Mr. Freshwater by retaining Mr. Freshwater despite the above allegations and failing to discipline Mr. Freshwater despite knowledge of the same,” the lawsuit says.

Freshwater filed a counter lawsuit in September 2008, according to the Mount Vernon News “Freshwater files counterclaim.” The article reports that, “The counterclaim asserts the allegations of the plaintiffs are false and therefore slanderous, causing injury to Freshwater’s reputation, exposing him to public disgrace and adversely affecting his trade or business. On that basis, Freshwater is claiming defamation.”


The Columbus Dispatch has again incorrectly reported length of time that Zach Dennis said the alleged burn remained on his arm. “Past student disputes cross-burn evidence”—March 26, 2009.

In that article they reported, that, “Dennis has testified that the burn marks were painful, caused him to lose sleep and lasted more than a week.”

That is closer to his testimony than what they previously reported of “about three weeks.”


A lawsuit filed by Freshwater on June 9, 2009, contains information about what Dennis claimed the second time he was on the witnes stand: "The alleged student who Defendant Board claimed had a mark on their arm for three-to-four (3-4) weeks most recently testified in the hearing on May 7, 2009, that the mark lasted 'About a week and a half, two weeks.'"

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hearing Delayed Again

The Mount Vernon News website reports that the John Freshwater hearing, that was scheduled to resume on Friday the 20th, has been delayed: "Friday’s contract termination hearing for John Freshwater has been canceled. The hearing is scheduled to resume Wednesday at 9 a.m."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Student Questions Statement in Newspaper

The following testimony took place between 11:17 A.M. and 11:35 A.M. on 2/27/09.

The student read in the newspaper that his seventh-grade science teacher, Bill Oxenford, testified at the John Freshwater hearing that he stopped using the Tesla coil in class demonstrations ten years ago. That was not true, Nathan Thomas told his parents.

Thomas, now in tenth-grade, said that Oxenford did use it in his class—as many as ten students went up and touched the Tesla coil with their fingers. Thomas described coming in contact with the electricity as “like the tip of a coat hanger being moved around on the tip of my finger.” He found it to not be hot, was surprised when he first felt it and that it left a little red mark that was gone by the next class.

The newspaper coverage Thomas read was presumably an article titled “Tesla coil demonstrated during hearing” published in the Mount Vernon News.

The testimony of Thomas went on to information about Freshwater. During an eighth-grade science class with Freshwater, in a lesson on gases, three to four students touched the Tesla coil, Thomas said. “Girls that went up kinda’ shrieked, I guess because they are girls,” Thomas said.

Freshwater never preached in science class, he did, however, present both sides on issues—such as saying that some people believe that there is a God who created the earth, Freshwater would then go on with the lesson, Thomas said.

Attorney for the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education, David Millstone, asked Thomas about the use of the word “here” in Freshwater’s classroom.

Thomas said that the students would say “here” when they came across a “date” in the textbook. “Like, ‘This fossil was 49 million years old,’ and we would say ‘here,’” Thomas said.

Freshwater had the students question statements in the textbook that had to do with radioactive dating, Thomas explained, because that is relative dating, depending on things around it “such as fossils and trees” to determine a date.


For more information on the controversy surrounding radioactive dating, see “Radioactive dating method ‘under fire’” an article by Andrew A. Snelling, published in Creation. Also by Snelling is an article titled “Geological conflict: Young radiocarbon date for ancient fossil wood challenges fossil dating.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Excessive legal fees?: MV School Board Meeting 3/2/09

The issue of how much money the Mount Vernon City Schools, Ohio, Board of Education has been paying in legal fees, while pursuing the Freshwater matter, was brought up during the boards March 2, 2009 meeting.