Thursday, March 26, 2009

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.”

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