Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jewish Student Finds Ten Commandments Offensive

The following testimony took place on 10/29/08—this article relies on the official hearing transcript for details of the testimony.

The student—testifying in a hearing that will determine if his former teacher keeps his job—said that the teacher kept two copies of the Ten Commandments displayed in the classroom. “I didn’t like being in that classroom and being Jewish,” James Hoeffgen said.

Hoeffgen said that there were other items in the classroom that he deemed to be “Christian” but the Ten Commandments was the only item he could name or describe.

The student—a high school senior during the time of his testimony—was called as a witness by the school board in the hearing for Mount Vernon, Ohio, eighth grade science teacher John Freshwater. The hearing began in October of 2008 and has yet to be completed.

Freshwater removed the Ten Commandments from his classroom when requested to do so, in writing, by school administration.

Hoeffgen said that the topics Freshwater covered in class included the age of things. “[W]e were taught such things such as the earth may have been around for only a few thousand years,” Hoeffgen said, “and that carbon dating was inaccurate and things like dinosaurs lived with humans and, for instance, the Loch Ness Monster existed still today.”

One of the handouts he received in class was titled “Survival of the Fakest,” Hoeffgen said. He said that handout, or another handout, contained information about faked drawings of animal embryos that originated in the 1800’s—the handout said that the drawings were still being used in textbooks.

There was an article published in the Dec2000/Jan2001 of American Spectator with the same title and that covered the same subject that Hoeffgen described. (For those that have access to OhioLink, here is the article “Survival of the Fakest” from American Spectator.)

Freshwater never used the words “Intelligent Design” or “Creationism,” Hoeffgen said.

Hoeffgen said he believed that some of the things being taught in class were based out of Christianity. He said he did pass his proficiency test for science.

John Freshwater Wanted Hearing To Be Before School Board

One year ago today, John Freshwater requested that the school board hear his case instead of taking it to a referee. “I request the hearing be a public hearing before the school board,” Freshwater wrote in a letter dated June 30, 2008.

Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education voted on June 20, 2008 to start the process of firing Freshwater. By law, Freshwater had ten days from receiving receipt of the board’s resolution to request a hearing. His attorney, R. Kelly Hamilton, said that Freshwater received the notice by certified mail “on/or about June 24.”

Ohio revised code 3319.16 states that a teacher may request the hearing to take place before the school board.

The board elected to have the hearing take place before a referee—with the board being able to make the final decision on retaining Freshwater after receiving the referee’s recommendation.

Attorney for the board, David Millstone, did not respond to a request for comment.

Freshwater spoke to the board during their meeting on August 4, 2008. In his comments to them, he responded to their choice to have the hearing before a referee. “Why not you?” Freshwater asked. “I want you, I don’t want a referee. That’s who should hear it, not a referee, not someone we don’t even know.”

Sunday, June 28, 2009

School Overlooked Key Information

The following testimony took place on 4/2/09—this article relies on the official hearing transcript for details of the testimony.

Six days after the investigative report came out—that he was not interviewed for—teacher Andrew Thompson spoke with the school’s superintendent about concerns he had with the report. Thompson would later publicly describe the report as an “incomplete, biased, and all-out lie investigation.”

During the 2006-2007 school year, Thompson served as an intervention specialist with the Mount Vernon City School System. He spent approximately 180 days in John Freshwater’s classroom that year. The job required following a group of 15 students—who were on individual education plans (IEP)—around to their classes and then following up with them at the learning center.

Thompson was a student in Freshwater’s class in 1998.

H.R. On Call (HROC)

Thompson said he went through the report making notes—he then decided to talk with Superintendent Steve Short. “I felt if I had stayed back and not have shared anything,” Thompson said, “then I would be letting a good man and a good teacher be falsely accused.”

The meeting with Short—on June 26, 2008—lasted for about an hour, Thompson said.

One of the things brought up was a discussion Thompson had with Riley Swanson, one of the students interviewed by HROC. “He was very frustrated with the investigation,” Thompson said, “from the standpoint he would try to answer a question and he felt like he was interrupted and could not share what he was wanting to say and the words were twisted around and used in a way in which he didn't in any way intend.”

Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA)

Thompson attended approximately 69 FCA meetings in 2006-2007 and about the same amount in 2007-2008.

One thing that both Thompson and HROC agreed upon was that there was no evidence that Freshwater violated the school’s policy requiring students to have attendance slips before gaining admittance to FCA meetings.

Thompson said that Freshwater did not even voice any complaints about the policy that began in 2007. Attendance did begin to dwindle following the implantation of the policy—and there are currently no FCA meetings being held at the Mount Vernon Middle School, according to Thompson.

The report made mention of two boxes of Bibles that were previously in Freshwater’s classroom. Thompson said that those Bibles were placed there by students who were a part of FCA. Freshwater’s classroom was used by the students for FCA leadership meetings—the regular meetings were held in the band room.

HROC stated that Freshwater had exceeded the role of a monitor and had actively participated—Thompson countered that by saying Freshwater did not do a lot of talking in the meetings and did not give the impression of trying to lead the meetings.

A guest speaker would often be brought in to FCA to give a short devotional—there were times when students would bring videos to show. One of the videos was The Watchmaker, Thompson said.

Religion in the classroom

The HROC report claimed that Freshwater “engaged in teaching of a religious nature.”

Thompson said that he did not hear Freshwater speak about religion in the classroom—either when he was a student or later as an intervention specialist.

The HROC report claimed that Freshwater taught “creationism and related theories and call[ed] evolution into question.”

Thompson also did not hear creationism taught in class.

The word “here”

The word “here” was used in Freshwater’s class by students when they came across something in the textbook that was not necessarily fact, Thompson said. He did not get the impression that the word “here” had any religious meaning.

The word was used in connection with the age of things. “200 billion years ago would be an example,” Thompson said, “versus maybe something that happened 150 years ago that's been reported and observed.”

Thompson said that having the students use the word “here” was effective in engaging the students in the content of the textbook. It showed that they were not just “off into space” but were actively listening, Thompson said.

At the beginning of the school year, Freshwater would spend time explaining to the students the scientific process and helping them to understand the difference between fact and hypothesis, Thompson said.

The HROC report included a complaint from a “ninth grade science teacher” that alleged having to re-teach students. The example in the complaint: “mis-teaching science (i.e. that there’s some sort of ‘difference between facts and hypotheses’).”

Bible on the desk

The HROC report stated that “Freshwater was insubordinate in failing to remove all of the religious materials from his classroom.” Those items, according to HROC, were Freshwater’s “personal Bible on his desk and one checked out of the library” and “at least one poster.”

Thompson said that when he was a student he did not notice Freshwater’s Bible. He did notice it when he was in the classroom as an intervention specialist but it was not prominent. He described Freshwater’s desk as having two levels and that the Bible was not on the top. “I hate to say that the book was insignificant,” Thompson said “but, visually, it was insignificant compared to other things on the desk.”

Thompson said he never saw Freshwater teaching or preaching from the Bible.

When Thompson discussed the HROC report with Short, he mentioned that he also had a Bible on his desk and that it had been there during the time Freshwater was being told to remove the Bible. Thompson said that Short did not give any comment on that statement.

“George Bush/Colin Powell” poster

The HROC report reference to “at least one poster” is the “George Bush/Colin Powell” poster.

(The photograph was taken January 28, 2003. © Brooks Kraft/CORBIS. The poster was printed by Freeport Press, Inc.)

Thompson stated that he did see the poster in Freshwater’s classroom but that the Bible verse—James 5:16—across the top of it was covered up.

The poster to him was not a religious item. “I saw it as a poster of our leadership,” Thompson said. “It would be no different than our office in the middle school as soon as you go in has a – has several pictures of President Obama.”

When the HROC report refers to the poster by name, it calls it the “Colin Powell poster.” Thompson observed that Freshwater was not asked to remove the poster but that it was still mentioned in the report. “[I]t was put in as if Mr. Freshwater was guilty of being insubordinate for not taking down the Colin Powell poster,” Thompson said.


The HROC report included in the summary of their findings a reference to the movie “Expelled.” “Freshwater gave an extra credit assignment for students to view the movie ‘Expelled’ which does involve intelligent design,” the report stated.

Watching the movie “Expelled,” and then writing about it, was one option on the extra credit assignment. Students were not required to go and watch the movie.

In the meeting Thompson had with Short, he showed Short the content standards that Freshwater was supposed to be teaching. Thompson said that Freshwater even kept a copy of the content standards up on the classroom door and visible to students as they walked in. “And one of the key things that are in the science standards is ethical practices,” Thompson said. “And it says, ‘Explain why it is important to examine data objectively and not let bias affect observations.’”

Supplemental resources

Thompson said that not only are teachers allowed to use supplemental resources, but that they are encouraged to do so. “Our administrators have, I feel, done a good job of letting us know that good teachers are ones who make the classroom come alive, and that's not just of the textbook,” Thompson said. “So what we need to do is go teach those standards.”

Tesla coil

While Thompson was in the classroom as an intervention specialist, he saw Freshwater demonstrate the Tesla coil. About 18 students out of a class of 23 participated in a static electricity daisy chain.

Freshwater also ran the spark across his own arm to make a mark—after which about three students asked to have the same thing done to their arm, Thompson said.

No student was harmed or made any complain about the Tesla coil, Thompson said.

Attorney for Freshwater, R. Kelly Hamilton, showed Thompson the photos that have purported to be of a student allegedly burned by the Tesla coil. Thompson had seen the photos in the newspaper but said that he never saw what was depicted in the photos on a child’s arm.

Thompson said he shared his experiences with the Tesla coil with Short and asked why only one person would be burned if multiple people had used it. He also asked Short if there was any way that the photo could be validated—considering the extent that photos can be manipulated with modern technology.

Thompson reported that Short—although he did listen—said he was not able to say a lot about the matter or ask many questions.

Ohio Achievement Test (OAT) scores/re-teaching

The HROC report included the statement that Freshwater’s students had to be re-taught. “During interviews with high school science teachers expressed frustration and concern regarding having to ‘re-teach’ concepts that in their opinion had been improperly taught by Mr. Freshwater at the eighth grade level,” the report stated.

Thompson said that he had no knowledge that Freshwater’s students needed re-taught—to the contrary, Freshwater’s students passed the OAT at a rate of 77 percent. For the “Life Science” portion of the test, which included evolutionary theory, they passed at a rate of 89 percent. Freshwater’s student passed at a higher rate than any other Mount Vernon Middle School eighth grade science class—Freshwater met and exceeded state standards.

(Also see the article "Head Teacher at High School: Never Said Freshwater’s Students Needed Re-taught.")

“Peanut butter and jelly”

One of the demonstrations Freshwater would do to help students understand how scientists work is to have the students help him make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Thompson said:

“Mr. Freshwater brings in loaves of bread and a big thing of peanut butter and a big thing of jelly. And you ask the kids how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You think it would be simple. He follows word for word what the kids say. It ends up being all over his hands and all over the place. They have a hard time correctly telling him what he has to do.

“His point was, going with the scientific theory, you have to follow step by step by step. As a scientist, you have got to document. You've got to be able to go step by step and follow directions to a T.”

Dr. Lynda Weston

Thompson spoke to the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education on August 4, 2008 during the public participation portion of the board’s meeting. It was at this time that he described the HROC report as an “incomplete, biased, and all-out lie investigation.”

(Thompson is the first person to speak on the video.)

Following the board meeting, Dr. Lynda Weston emailed Thompson and requested a meeting with him, Thompson said.

(Weston, formerly Director of Teaching and Learning at Mount Vernon City Schools, was in administrative work with the school for ten years. Weston is cited multiple times for information in the report by HROC.)

Thompson said that the initial subject of the meeting with Weston only took five minutes but that the rest of the meeting took about an hour. The conversation turned to what Thompson said at the prior board meeting. “[S]he asked me why I thought I needed to go to the Board and present what I did at the board meeting,” Thompson said.

According to Thompson, Weston told him that in the future he was supposed to get her permission before speaking to the board.

Weston expressed her belief as to why Thompson was supporting Freshwater as being because they “share the same religion,” Thompson said. He said he then felt the need to defend his reason for speaking out about the Freshwater matter. “[I]f it were another teacher that I felt was being wrongly accused of something and I had knowledge of that,” Thompson said, “and they may or may not share the same religion as me, […] my actions would be the same.”

The conversation then took another turn. Thompson said that Weston mentioned the name of his brother-in-law and asked Thompson, “Well, what do you think about his decision to leave the school district?”

After Thompson explained his brother-in-law’s reason for leaving, he said that Weston then asked, “Well, are you going to do the same?”

He replied, “No.”

Weston’s next question, according to Thompson, was, “Are you considering going into the ministry? I think you would make a good minister.”

Thompson said that eventually Weston understood that he had no plans of switching careers. They then discussed the possibility of Thompson getting into a master’s program and Thompson said that Weston helped him with some of the details for that.

Thompson was unsure of how to take Weston’s comments during their hour discussion—some things were complementary but made him feel unwanted as a teacher. “I felt like […] if I said the wrong thing, that I would lose my job,” Thompson said.

Thompson said that there have been a few times, since the controversy with Freshwater started, that he has questioned working for the Mount Vernon school system. He said he is concerned about what he described as a “slippery slope”—teachers losing their sense of being free to be creative and effective in their teaching over concerns that someone might complain over the smallest thing.

For Weston’s version of this conversation, see the article “School Administrator: Dishes It Out, but Can’t Take It ” the section titled “Andrew Thompson.”

Jody Goetzman

Thompson said that he had a parent/teacher conference with newly elected board member Jody Goetzman last year in which she made a comment about the middle school: “she said one of her top priorities was to fix the mess in the middle school.”

(Goetzman was elected in November, 2007, and took office in January, 2008.)

Thompson did not know what Goetzman meant by the statement.

(Request for comment from Goetzman has been made—if and when she replies, this article will be updated with her response.)

Does a teacher have to believe in Darwinian Evolution?

One of the questions Thompson said he posed to Short was, “Do you have to be a Muslim to teach Islam?”

A teacher at the high school, who teaches a class on world religions, teaches about Islam but—as far as Thompson knew—does not follow the Islamic religion. Thompson understood the teacher to still be effective without believing in the religion he was teaching about.

Thompson explained why he brought up the subject:

“My point with that is […] there's been allegations brought up about the way Mr. Freshwater taught evolution. And my thought was, well, not knowing exactly what his feelings are about evolution, what if maybe he didn't necessarily agree with exactly word for word what the textbook said? He still taught it. Does that mean that he has to believe word for word what the textbook says in order for him to be an effective teacher?”

John Freshwater

Thompson said that Freshwater had a good attitude throughout the ordeal of the accusations and investigation:

“From the time this whole thing came out and even now, I don't see a difference in Mr. Freshwater, and the students didn't see a difference in Mr. Freshwater. I just ... It's amazing to me, the attitude. I felt that he was not condemning towards the School Board, towards Mr. Short, towards our principals.”

Superintendent Steve Short

Thompson said he considers both Freshwater and Short to be mentors and friends of his. He said his intent in talking with Short about the HROC investigation was not to attack him, but to share concerns. Thompson wanted Short to talk to the board and ask that they reinstate Freshwater.

The HROC report is dated June 19, 2008. The board voted June 20, 2008 to start the process of firing Freshwater. The board placed Freshwater on unpaid administrative leave.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Subpoenas in John Freshwater Hearing -- School Board Says Judge Doesn’t Have Jurisdiction

Mount Vernon school board members do not want to appear to testify in the hearing for the teacher they placed on unpaid administrative leave last summer. In a brief filed on Friday, they said the county judge cannot make them testify:

“The statue is clear – this Court’s jurisdiction to compel attendance at a hearing is limited to the instance where a person fails to comply with a subpoena. As the subpoenas have been quashed by the Board, Petitioner does not have a vehicle to invoke this Court’s jurisdiction. Therefore, Petitioner’s Application should be rejected in its entirety.”

This second document from the school board’s attorneys appears to have been submitted along with the one on Wednesday, but it had to receive special approval from Judge Eyster before officially being “filed.” It goes into greater detail than the previous document—including citing specific court cases and providing affidavits from three of the school board members.

In this brief, it says that if board members testified “they would necessarily have to disqualify themselves from participating in the ultimate adjudication of this matter.” In the document filed on Wednesday, it only said it was “likely.”

As support for their position, the brief cites the case of Wilson v. Okla Horse Racing Comm’n:

“…[T]he actions of [the board member] in initiating and taking an active role in the matter for which [a horse trainer] was suspended, coupled with his presiding over the three-person Board and testifying in the case created a situation in which he should have disqualified himself.”

When the board voted to start the process of firing Freshwater last summer, they gave four reasons that they said were “independently sufficient ground for termination of employment.”

During the 20 days of testimony in the ongoing hearing, the evidence for many of the original allegations has been challenged. The brief filed Friday included a summary of the original four reasons as “Background” information:

  • “Petitioner’s use of a ‘Tesla’ coil, an electrical device, on multiple 8th grade students in science class, burning a mark on at least one of them.

  • “Petitioner’s teaching outside the approved curriculum, including teaching Creationism and Intelligent Design and including teaching religion in his eighth grade science class.

  • “Petitioner’s failure to stay within the statutorily imposed duties for a school employee monitor of a religious organization, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and serving as a participant rather than a non-participant in his role there.

  • “Petitioner’s acts of insubordination by failing to follow a directive of school administrators and further compounding the insubordination by taking further action to highlight that insubordination.”

The “failing to follow a directive” in item number four is a reference to Freshwater’s Bible. The “further compounding” most likely refers to Freshwater bringing a Bible and another book from the school’s library into his classroom.

The school board members have not been attending the hearing. Those present at the hearing have been their attorney, David Millstone, and Superintendent Steve Short.

The affidavit of school board President Ian Watson states that he does not have firsthand knowledge of the “alleged acts of Mr. Freshwater.” He does acknowledge having talked with the Dennis family—who brought complaints against Freshwater—and that he also did try the Tesla coil out on his own arm to see what it would do:

“Prior to issuance of the Amended Resolution, I had several conversations with Steve Dennis and Jennifer Dennis involving concerns and complaints they had about Mr. Freshwater’s class and activities at Mount Vernon Middle School. I referred those concerns and complaints to the Superintendent of the Mount Vernon Schools, Steve Short. After the Mount Vernon Schools received a written letter from counsel for Mr. and Mrs. Dennis, the Board of Education decided to have an independent investigation made into the various concerns and complaints they had raised.”


“At some point in April 2008, I asked to see a demonstration of the Tesla coil, an instrument Mr. Freshwater is alleged to have used to burn or mark a student and then applied it to myself to see if it would a (sic) cause a burn. Subsequently, Steve Dennis came to my office and saw the mark it had made on me. I had not scheduled Mr. Dennis to come to my office.”

The affidavit of board member Jody Goetzman also stated that she did not have any firsthand knowledge. She does acknowledge having talked with Jennifer Dennis about her complaints, but said that it was prior to taking office as a school board member.

The conversation Goetzman had took place sometime between November 2007 and January 2008. “She expressed concerns and raised issues concerning Mr. Freshwater and her son,” Goetzman stated. “I advised her that I was not yet a Board member and that if she had concerns as a parent, she should go to school authorities including the Middle School Principal and the Superintendent, to pursue or (sic) concerns.”

The affidavit of board member Margie Bennett also stated that she did not have any firsthand knowledge. She acknowledges being subpoenaed “to appear to testify and to produce certain documents.” She has been on the board since January 1988 and currently serves as its vice-president.

The brief filed Friday argues that Freshwater does not have a legal right to force anyone to turn over documents. “[The law] does not provide any right to the discovery of documents as sought by Petitioner,” the brief stated. “The statute only provides that the parties require witnesses to be under oath and subject to cross-examination.”


For more information, see the last two articles on this topic:

“School Board ‘quashed’ Subpoenas in the John Freshwater Hearing.”

"School Board Gives Reason for Not Complying With Subpoenas."

UPDATE 7/1/2009:

The minutes of the May 4, 2009 school board meeting are now online.

In this meeting, it was voted—by the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education—to quash the subpoenas of Margie Bennett and Ian Watson.

The board believes that only these two members were subpoenaed. Attorney for John Freshwater, R. Kelly Hamilton, filed an “application to compel attendance of witnesses” that says that Jody Goetzman was also subpoenaed.

The relevant portion of the board’s minutes are below:

Mrs. Fair moved, seconded by Mr. Hughes, to quash Dr. Bennett’s subpoena to testify at the Freshwater termination hearing on May 7 and May 8, 2009.

Call of votes: Mrs. Fair, Yes; Mr. Hughes, Yes; Dr. Bennett, Abstain; Mrs. Goetzman, Yes; Mr. Watson, Yes.

Motion carried.

Mrs. Goetzman moved, seconded by Mrs. Fair, to quash Mr. Watson’s subpoena to testify at the Freshwater termination hearing on May 7 and May 8.

Call of votes: Mrs. Goetzman, Yes; Mrs. Fair, Yes; Dr. Bennett, Yes; Mr. Hughes, Yes; Mr. Watson, Abstain.

Motion carried.


“Judge Says He Doesn’t Have Jurisdiction”

Thursday, June 18, 2009

School Board Gives Reason for Not Complying With Subpoenas

The employment hearing for suspended Mount Vernon teacher John Freshwater has been held up by the refusal of several school board members to turn over documents and to appear to testify. On Wednesday, two attorneys for the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education filed a document at the county courthouse giving as their reason that it was “likely” that if their clients appeared to testify they would have to disqualify themselves from the Freshwater matter.

The document—filed with the Court of Common Pleas Knox County, Ohio—gave no specific legal reason why board members were, in their words, “likely” to have to disqualify themselves. The concern is raised in the document that if there was a need for more than two members to disqualify themselves, the board would not have quorum.

The filing of the document came just two days after a public school board meeting in which residents expressed disappointment with the board's handling of the controversy. One of those that spoke at that meeting urged the school board members to comply with the subpoenas. “So as a young person I find myself questioning the people elected to office in our community and the process of the law,” Levi Stickle said. “Please, for the sake of other young people like myself, for this community and to simply get to the truth stop the charade and testify!”

Requests made to school board attorney David Millstone last week—seeking a clear legal explanation for the board’s refusal to testify—were not returned.

The document cites “Rule 24(A) of the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure”: *

Intervention of right. Upon timely application anyone shall be permitted to intervene in an action: (1) when a statute of this state confers an unconditional right to intervene; or […](2) when the applicant claims an interest relating to the property or transaction that is the subject of the action and the applicant is so situated that the disposition of the action may as a practical matter impair or impede the applicant’s ability to protect that interest, unless the applicant's interest is adequately represented by existing parties.”

(The document left out those portions that I’ve put in bold. They also inserted “…” where I’ve indicated.)

The documentstates that the board quashed their own subpoenas:

“In response to the receipt of their subpoenas, the two Board members requested the Board quash the subpoenas as neither Board member had direct knowledge of the facts related to the allegations contained in the Board resolution, and the Board did so in May 2009.”

The document by the board only lists two members as being previously subpoenaed—but does not give their names. It also says that a third member has previously been “requested to bring certain documents.” It goes on to say Freshwater “has indicated he intends to subpoena a third Board member and through his petition has indicated the possibility of subpoenaing a fourth Board member.”

The “Application to compel attendance of witnesses in the employment hearing of John Freshwater”—that was filed by the attorney for Freshwater, R. Kelly Hamilton, on June 2—says that more than two board members were subpoenaed. (See the last article on this topic “School Board ‘quashed’ Subpoenas in the John Freshwater Hearing.”)

The matter has yet to be ruled on by Judge Eyster.

* Note: “Rule 24(A) of the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure” was probability not being used by the board as support for being able to quash subpoenas. It was probably only cited by them as the basis to submit their reply to the original document filed at the county courthouse.

UPDATE 6/20/2009:

"Subpoenas in John Freshwater Hearing -- School Board Says Judge Doesn’t Have Jurisdiction."

John Freshwater Didn’t Call Media for Gathering on Square

The following testimony took place on 3/27/09—this article relies on the official hearing transcript for details of the testimony.

The Mount Vernon middle school teacher who refused to remove the Bible from his desk has been criticized by some as trying to seek attention. During testimony in March in an ongoing hearing, information came to light that it was another local resident who called the media.

Jeff Cline, who described himself as one of John Freshwater’s “Christian brothers,” said that he was the one who called the media. The television stations he said he called were “Four, six, and ten.” He also said he thought he was the one who contacted the Associated Press.

The gathering was held April 16, 2008 on the public square of downtown Mount Vernon, Ohio. Freshwater read a statement explaining why he was not going to remove his personal Bible off his classroom desk. Mount Vernon News reported on the gathering in the article “Crowd shows support for MV science teacher.”

(It wasn’t until after the gathering that other allegations against the teacher emerged. See Mount Vernon News article “Teacher conduct subject of investigation” )

Attorney for Freshwater, R. Kelly Hamilton, asked Cline what his impression was—based on observation, experience and discussion—of whether or not Freshwater would have participated if he knew the media would be there. “John wouldn't have been there that day,” Cline said. “John wouldn't have put that together.”

Cline also stated that Freshwater had no role in inviting people to attend the gathering. Cline said he had no knowledge of whether or not it was Freshwater who wrote the statement that Freshwater read to the crowd.

It was from having a conversation with Freshwater that Cline learned Freshwater was being ordered to remove his Bible.

On the day of the gathering, Cline described Freshwater as not being his usual cheerful self. “John's always pretty much happy, smiling, just very upbeat and positive type person,” Cline said. “That day I could tell just the -- he looked terrible. The sight of him, just the tears in his eyes and the quivering in his voice, just a total different John that I'd ever seen. He was fearful.”

Cline explained the reason for Freshwater’s demeanor as being the concern over the Bible. “[He was fearful of] Losing his Bible from his desk, somebody taking that prize possession of his, that Bible,” Cline said.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Time for school board to stop charade — John Freshwater controversy

Community members expressed their disappointment with the Mount Vernon City Schools, Ohio, Board of Education at their June 15, 2009 meeting.

In the last nine months only one person—Ron Meharry—has spoken out in the meetings in favor of the school board’s handling of the controversy.

School board members did not give any response in the meeting to what the public had to say.

The Mount Vernon News has posted an article about the meeting, "Citizens square off with MV school board."

Opinions expressed are those of the individuals expressing them.

Steve Thompson

Levi Stickle

Click here for the text of Levi Stickle's comments.

Dee Briggs

Bob Brayton

Jeff Cline
Click here to view the video of Jeff Cline’s comments. (I removed it as an embedded video because I wasn’t sure that it was related to the topic of Mount Vernon Middle School.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

School Board “quashed” Subpoenas in the John Freshwater Hearing

Three members of the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education have refused to comply with subpoenas to testify and turn over documents in the John Freshwater hearing, according to a document obtained from the Court of Common Pleas Knox County, Ohio.

Those named in the document—“Application to compel attendance of witnesses in the employment hearing of John Freshwater”—are Ian Watson, Jody Goetzman and Margie Bennett. In addition to those already subpoenaed, the application requests that board member Sharon Fair be required to testify and turn over documents.

The application—dated June 2, 2009—was submitted to the court by R. Kelly Hamilton, attorney for Freshwater. It states that the subpoena for documents from Watson was as early as February 27, 2009. The three board members—Watson, Goetzman and Bennett—were submitted with subpoenas, to testify, in March and April of 2009, according to the application.

Freshwater, according to the application, was told in May that the board members would not be appearing to testify:

“In an email dated May 6, 2009, legal counsel for employer advised Petitioner John Freshwater the school board had ‘quashed those subpoenas and neither individual will be appearing.’ On May 7, 2009, counsel for Petitioner and counsel for the school board discussed the statutory process for compelling the presence of witnesses desired by Petitioner with acknowledgment by referee who was appointed by the the (sic) superintendent of public instruction. Counsel for the parties, with acknowledgment by the referee, agreed Petitioner John Freshwater would make this Application pursuant to R.C. 3319.16 seeking to compel the production of documents and appearance of witnesses.”

The application cites portions of the Ohio Revised Code 3319.16:

“Both parties may be present at such hearing, be represented by counsel, require witnesses to be under oath, cross-examine witnesses, take a record of the proceedings, and require the presence of witnesses in their behalf upon subpoena to be issued by the treasurer of the board.

“In case of the failure of any person to comply with a subpoena, a judge of the court of common pleas of the county in which the person resides, upon application of any interested party, shall compel attendance of the person by attachment proceedings as for contempt.”

At this time, it is not known why the school board members mentioned above are refusing to comply with the subpoenas. (Request for comment from them has been made—if and when they reply, this article will be updated with their response.)

The application submitted to the court by Hamilton makes no mention of the school board members submitting a request to have their subpoenas quashed by the court. Presumably, if the school board had submitted a quash request to the court, Hamilton’s document would have been identified as a response instead of “Application to compel attendance of witnesses in the employment hearing of John Freshwater.”

Did the school board members try to “quash” the subpoenas themselves instead of requesting a judge to do it?

UPDATE 6/18/09:

For the school board’s side of the story, see the article “School Board Gives Reason for Not Complying With Subpoenas.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Freshwater Press Release: “Federal Lawsuit Filed Against Mount Vernon City School Board”

The following press release was provided today (6-10-09) by John Freshwater’s media contact person, Don Matolyak:

Federal Lawsuit Filed Against
Mount Vernon City School Board

A federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of John Freshwater, 8th grade science teacher at Mount Vernon Middle School against The Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education, as well as select members of the board, and administrators. Also included in the suit are Thomas and Julia Hurlevi, principals of H.R. on Call, Inc., and unnamed John and Jane Does.

The lawsuit, filed in US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, cites free speech and equal protection violations under the US Constitution. Violations of Ohio Public Policy, religious harassment, retaliation, conspiracy, defamation, and breach of contract are also addressed in the claim filed Tuesday.

"The truth needs to be heard and I look forward to resolving this situation so I can get back to teaching science." Freshwater said, "I miss teaching and want to get back in the classroom."

The civil action shows Freshwater followed the directives given by the administration regarding items located in his classroom in April of 2008, but for the removal of his personal Bible from his desk. While the board continues to claim that this is ‘not about the Bible on his desk’, it was Freshwater’s public statements and refusal to remove his Bible from his desk which prompted the board’s actions and caused the chain of events that lead to this lawsuit.

The claim shows that Freshwater was discriminated against because of his personal religious beliefs and has been treated differently than other teachers in the district. The action shows a concerted effort was made by members of the MVCSDB and the administration to pose Freshwater in a bad light. The administration ignored their duties in following the appropriate process with Freshwater and was negligent in their own knowledge and training of board policy.

Throughout the course of the public hearings it became obvious that many of the assumptions presented against Freshwater were inaccurate, fabricated, unsubstantiated, or simply untrue, yet these accusations were used as the premise for Freshwater’s dismissal.

The lawsuit explains how investigators, hired by the board, failed to interview key individuals who had relevant information, refused to follow-up on leads which could have acquitted Freshwater, misrepresented documents within their report, and inserted inflammatory statements and personal bias.

Attorney for the MVCSD Board of Education, David Millstone, and members of the board conspired with others to alter the investigation and bias the hearing process. Attorney Millstone knowingly crossed lines of separation by reviewing drafts of the ‘independent’ investigative report in advance and providing information to H.R. on Call causing them to revise and further bias the report. Millstone also repeatedly collaborated with the Doe family, and their legal counsel, against Freshwater even while the Doe family had an action against the MVCSD.

The suit demonstrates how the MVCSD mishandled this situation by choosing to single Freshwater out and tarnish his reputation rather than investigate the facts.

Superintendant Steve Short, Middle School Principal William White, former school administrator Lynda Weston, school board members Ian Watson and Jody Goetzman, and the Hurlevi’s are all named individually, as well as in their official capacities, in the claim while Millstone is named only in his capacity as an agent for the MVCSDBOE.

According to Freshwater’s attorney R Kelly Hamilton, the preference was to complete the public hearing before filing any action, but the refusal of board members to testify has delayed the hearing and pushed against the statute of limitations requirements.

Freshwater Files Suit against School Board

Several news sources are reporting that John Freshwater filed a federal lawsuit on June 9, 2009 against the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education:

“Federal lawsuit filed against school board”Mount Vernon News

"Freshwater files federal lawsuit"Mount Vernon News

“Ohio teacher who displayed Bible sues over firing” —WTTE FOX 28

The Mount Vernon News has posted a copy of the lawsuit on their website.

This evening (6-10-09), radio station WRFD is streaming a live broadcast related to the Freshwater case, including an interview with Freshwater's attorney Kelly Hamilton. (Click here for WRFD broadcast archive.)

The next public school board meeting will be held on June 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the Mount Vernon Middle School Library, 298 Martinsburg Road.

The next scheduled days in the Freshwater hearing are June 18 and 19.

UPDATE 6/16/09:

The hearing for June 18 and 19 has been canceled.