Friday, February 27, 2009

Student: Tesla Coil Did Not Burn

The following testimony took place between 10:12 A.M. and 10:52 A.M. on 2/27/09.

The student laughed when asked by attorney R. Kelly Hamilton if he remembered his fellow students reacting when the Tesla coil was applied to their arms. “It was nothing painful at all,” Corbin Douglas Heck said.

During the 07-08 school year Heck was a student in John Freshwater’s eighth-grade science class. His testimony at the February 27th hearing covered his knowledge of the Tesla coil experiment, his interaction with Zachary Dennis and Freshwater’s handling of religion in the classroom.

(Kelly Hamilton enters the Knox County Service Center Friday morning at the start of the student testimonies of the day.)

Heck described having the Tesla coil run across his arm as feeling like “a brief tickle.” He said that it did not hurt. No immediate mark was visible, but later a faint mark did appear, Heck said. The mark that he described as being pinkish and in the shape of an “x” of “about the size of a quarter or half dollar” was gone by the time he arrived home at about 7 or 8 that evening, Heck said.

Heck—who said he sat at the front of the class and was two feet away from Freshwater—did not hear Freshwater say that the mark from the Tesla coil was a cross.

Freshwater first applied the Tesla coil to himself several times before asking if any of the students wanted to try it, Heck said. Of the 21 kids in the class about 12 of them had the Tesla coil applied to them, including Dennis, Heck said.

Hamilton showed Heck Board Exhibits #7 and #8, photos allegedly of Dennis’ arm with burns. Heck said that he never saw marks like those depicted in the picture on anyone’s arm including not on Dennis’ arm who Heck said normally wears short sleeve shirts.

Heck described himself as being friends with Dennis and that in addition to having several classes together they also have lunch together two or three times a week. Dennis never made a complaint to him about his arm being injured by the Tesla coil, Heck said.

When Dennis had the Tesla coil applied to his arm, his eyes went up and he laughed, Heck said. Heck did not see Dennis pull away, cry, or that he was harmed in any manner. He did not remember Freshwater ever holding anyone’s arm down when applying the Tesla coil.

After applying the Tesla coil to individuals, Freshwater asked the students if they wanted to be in a daisy chain, Heck said. (Daisy chain—holding hands and experiencing the shock of the electricity as it flows from the first person in line through to the last. Heck said that Freshwater was the first person in the line.) All but three students participated in this, no one that previously had the Tesla coil applied to their arm declined to be a part of the daisy chain, including Dennis, Heck said.

Dennis never expressed discomfort to Heck about being in Freshwater’s class, Heck said. When Freshwater would call upon Dennis for questions, Dennis would answer them, sometimes Dennis would raise his hand to answer a question—Heck said he did not get any sense that Dennis was being picked on by Freshwater.

Heck said that Freshwater did not teach religion in the classroom. “The Bible was never pulled out, it was under papers,” Heck said. When the students asked about Easter, Freshwater responded by saying that he could not really tell them about that, they would have to ask their parents, Heck said.

Attorney for the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education, David Millstone, asked Heck if the word “here” was ever used in Freshwater’s classroom.

Heck said that when they were reading from the textbook and they came across something listed as fact in the textbook, but was not fact, the students would say “here.” An example he gave was that if the textbook said the earth was six-billion years old, the students would say “here” to indicate that the date given was not exact or necessarily fact.

Hamilton visited Heck’s home on February 18 and showed Heck a video titled The Watchmaker. (This video is Board Exhibit #17.)

Heck said that prior to this he had never seen the film. He described it as being something that was unique enough—about a watch and lava—that he would have remembered watching it.

When under cross examination by Millstone, Heck admitted that he had missed about a week of school last year.

Heck said that he thought Freshwater was “literally the best science teacher I ever had.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hearing Delays

The Mount Vernon News website on Wednesday, February 25, posted a headline stating the John Freshwater contract termination hearing had been delayed again: "The hearing originally scheduled to resume this Thursday has been postponed until Friday, February 27."

Following the previous delay in the hearing, when the testimony was still scheduled to resume on Thursday, I contacted Don Matolyak, media contact person for John Freshwater. “All I can say about the delay is that there is some 'legal wrangling' taking place after a day of depositions for the federal lawsuit (brought by the Dennis family against John, the administration and the BOE) took place on Monday,” Matolyak said.

Rumors that the hearing was being delayed due to settlement talks are not correct, according to information supplied by Matolyak.

UPDATE 2/26/09:

I received an email from Matolyak giving some further comments on the delay of the hearing. “After a ton of discussions among the attorneys,” Matolyak wrote, “which caused the last two days of John Freshwater’s Employment hearing to be canceled, it looks like the hearing is on for tomorrow, February 27, 2009. The hearing will then be in recess for 3 weeks.”

Matolyak also said that attorney schedule conflicts were involved in the delays of the hearing—he may have been referring to how the hearing has been drug out over several months with only occasional days when testimony is actually taking place. “There are several attorneys involved besides Kelly including: Mr. Millstone (School Board), Mr. Shepherd (Referee), Ms Philemond (Dennis Family), and two insurance attorneys,” Matolyak wrote.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mount Vernon Middle School: “Behind the Scenes” Award Goes to News Reporter

In the midst of the controversy surrounding the Mount Vernon Middle School and its suspended teacher John Freshwater, the school principal gave a “Behind the Scenes” award to the education reporter from the Mount Vernon News.

Principal Bill White presented the award during the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education meeting on February 2, 2009. “Actually, its kinda funny to give a ‘Behind the Scenes’ award to the person who is out in front of everything that is going on,” White said.

(News reporter Pam Schehl is presented with “Behind the Scenes” award from Mount Vernon Middle School principal Bill White.)

The Mount Vernon News reported on Schehl’s receiving the award. The News quoted White as saying, “She can be counted on to be there for the kids and for the teachers. […] She balances writing about what’s right with education with doing her job and reporting on the not-so-positives things in the schools.”

Schehl wrote the article for the News covering the school board meeting. She has also written many of the articles for the News about the Freshwater controversy.

UPDATE 2/26/09:

The Mount Vernon News reports that Schehl is a finalist in the Associated Press Society of Ohio’s 2008 newspaper competition: “Pam Schehl, Best Breaking News for her articles on the Freshwater controversy.” The winners will not be announced until May 3.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Opening Statement by Hamilton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Dispatch Editor and Son Testified for MV School Board

The following testimony took place on 10/31/08—this article relies on the court transcript for details of the testimony.

Paul Souhrada works as the state editor for The Columbus Dispatch. Souhrada and his son Simon testified during the sixth day of the John Freshwater contract termination hearing (10/31/08).

In April of 2006, Souhrada filed a complaint with the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education over a handout from Freshwater’s eighth-grade science class. Souhrada’s son was one of “five current or former students of Freshwater” that H.R. On Call, Inc interviewed for its investigative report.

Dispatch reporter Dean Narciso wrote about Souhrada’s testimony in an article titled “Mount Vernon Teacher’s Hearing: Second student tells of burning.” Narciso acknowledged in the article that Souhrada is an editor at the Dispatch but wrote that Souhrada “has not been involved in the assigning or editing of stories about Freshwater.”

The focus of Souhrada’s testimony was on the handout and the complaint he filed. David Millstone, attorney for the school board, asked Souhrada what his concern was about the handout. “Well, I believe this is a creationist theory of Darwin's theory of evolution,” Souhrada replied.

(I do not have a copy of the handout, [see the update at the end of the article] but the HR On Call report says that the handout was titled, "Darwin's Theory of Evolution-The Premise and the Problem.”) Souhrada testified that he did some internet research and traced the article to the website

The closest match I was able to find on was a page titled “Darwin's Theory Of Evolution - A Theory in Crisis.” One of the headers on the page uses the phrase “The Premise,” and towards the end of the page, a header uses the phrase “A Theory In Crisis.” When checking for older versions of this page on the WayBackMachine, I found they had archived the versions from November 03, 2004, July 21, 2007 – February 10, 2008. The dates closest to the alleged download of the document never showed the page as titled as alleged.

The article on does not teach creationism or intelligent design—it explains Darwin’s theory of evolution and some of the problems with it including quotes from Darwin about possible problems with his own theory.

Under cross-examination by Kelly Hamilton, attorney for Freshwater, Souhrada was asked about the school’s response to his complaint—specifically what R. Jeff Maley, then superintendent of schools, wrote to Freshwater in a letter dated June 8, 2006:

Q. “After having read that letter, what's your understanding at this moment as to what the school or the school board or the administration found problematic with John's use of that document?”

A. “That it could not -- it had not passed -- material has not passed the test of scientific review and acceptance of the established scientific community and that he was not to use it.”

Q. “Say anywhere in there that he taught creationism?”

A. “No.”

Q. “Does it rebuke him in any way for teaching creationism?”

A. “No.”

Q. “Does it mention intelligent design?”

A. “No.”

Q. “Does it rebuke him in any way for teaching intelligent design?”

A. “No.”

The testimony of Simon Souhrada—

The Dispatch article on Souhrada’s testimony opened with the statement, “A second student said his eighth-grade science teacher burned a cross on his arm.” A few paragraphs into the article was this, “Simon Souhrada, 17, testified that Freshwater used a high-voltage static-electricity device to burn a cross on his arm four years ago.”

Souhrada did in fact testify that Freshwater put a mark on his arm and that he considered it to be a cross—but did not refer to the mark as a burn. Souhrada instead used the words “mark” and “draw” to describe what the device did.

The Dispatch correctly reported that Souhrada did not think anything of the experience with the Tesla coil at the time and made no complaint to his parents about it. One thing that could have been added is this telling exchange between Hamilton and Souhrada:

Q. “Did you tell your dad that you thought that Mr. Freshwater had perhaps made a cross mark on you?”

A. “Like I said, it didn't -- just didn't register. I didn't think anything of it. It was eighth grade. I said hey, cool, shocky thing made a mark on my arm.”

Q. “Cool shocky thing, is that what you said?”

A. “Didn't know it was a Tesla coil.”

The Dispatch wrote that “the cross stung a little at first, the redness lasted a couple of days, and the mark was gone after a few weeks.” That is basically a correct paraphrase of what Souhrada said—however, compare it to:

Q. “And did it hurt?”

A. “It stung a little when he first did it.”

Q. “Did it hurt afterwards?”

A. “No.”


Q. “You say it lasted a couple days?”

A. “It lasted as very easy to see for a couple days, then faded out. You could kind of see a red outline. If you looked for it, you could find it.”

Another thing that the Dispatch brought up was “Souhrada also recalled overhearing Freshwater tell a group of students, ‘Catholics aren't Christians.’” Emphasis should be placed on “overhearing”:

Q. “Okay. Did -- do you recall did he ever make any comments about Catholics in class?”

A. “Not directly to me. I just happened to overhear him once say that Catholics weren't Christians, and maybe I was eavesdropping.”

Q. “Where did he say that?”

A. “It was just in his classroom after school. I was in there for something else. He was talking to different students. I can't remember the exact context.”

Q. “And what specifically do you recall hearing him say?”

A. “Exact words, I just remember it stuck with me that Catholic aren't Christians.”

What Souhrada overheard was not during a class nor was he close enough to the conversation to know what the context of the comment was. The Dispatch reported that Souhrada—a Catholic—said that, though he remembered the comment, he was not offended by it.

Hamilton inquired into whether Souhrada ever talked with his parents or Freshwater about the incident. Souhrada said that he did not.

Read more about the Dispatch’s involvement in the Freshwater controversy: “Shame on The Columbus Dispatch.”


The following is a copy of the handout mentioned in the article:

(PDF) “Darwin’s Theory of Evolution—The Premise and the Problem"

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Did Freshwater Pray in FCA?

Levi Stickle, at , has posted a short article about the mention in the H.R. On Call, Inc. report of John Freshwater possibly leading a prayer in an FCA meeting for the health of a guest speaker (Pastor Zirkle). Stickle points out that the evidence that has come to light since the report is that Freshwater did not lead the prayer:

“The eyewitnesses, called to the stand in the Freshwater hearings, and those interviewed by 'Creation Facts', either said that it was a student who led the prayer or said they don't remember who led it.” —Did Freshwater Pray in FCA?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Weston Subject of Comments: MV School Board Meeting

Dr. Lynda Weston, formerly Director of Teaching and Learning at Mount Vernon City Schools, Ohio, was the subject of the public participation portion of Monday’s school board meeting. Weston is scheduled to testify at the February 20, 2009, John Freshwater contract termination hearing.*

Weston recently retired and the board is in the process of finding a person to fill her position. The board is considering re-hiring Weston for the position, although according to board president, Ian Watson, it would be only for a very short period to fill in until another person can be found.

“We are talking months, not years, and very few months,” Watson said. “That is not our first choice, certainly, I repeat myself on that. But if we cannot find a permanent person to fill that position prior to probably spring break, we will have to have a plan ‘B’ in effect.”

Controversy has arisen in the community over what Weston’s involvement may be in the process of seeking the firing of Freshwater.

Those that spoke at the school board meeting talked about their interaction with Weston and their knowledge of how Weston has handled the hiring of teachers in the school district.

Attempts to contact Weston for comment have been unsuccessful.

*According to the Mount Vernon News website, the February 20 hearing has been postponed until February 26. Delayed again.... The Mount Vernon News website at 4:55 P.M. on Wednesday (2/25/09) posted this news item, "The hearing originally scheduled to resume this Thursday has been postponed until Friday, February 27."

( Weston Subject of Comments (part 1): MV School Board Meeting 2/2/09 )

( Weston Subject of Comments (part 2): MV School Board Meeting 2/2/09 )