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.”

UPDATE:

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.”

SECOND UPDATE:

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.'"

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