Wednesday, June 1, 2011

EXCLUSIVE: Witness impeached by school records

James Stockdale was the lone witness for at least one of the ten reasons the Mount Vernon Board of Education gave for firing John Freshwater. According to school records, Stockdale’s substitute teaching duties never took him into Freshwater’s classroom during the time period Stockdale claimed to have heard Freshwater make remarks about homosexuality.

Stockdale testified in 2009, during the state administrative hearing, that he substitute taught for intervention specialist Kerri Mahan in the fall of 2006. This assignment, Stockdale said, led him to spend one period in Freshwater’s classroom accompanying special education students.

Stockdale said that during that period Freshwater taught his eighth-grade science class both that homosexuality is a sin and that scientists are wrong for saying homosexuality is partially genetic:

“[Freshwater said] that oftentimes scientists and information in textbooks are incorrect and he wanted to give an example of that. And the example he gave was that several years ago an article in Time magazine stated that scientists had found a genetic link to homosexuality and that scientists in the article were wrong because the Bible states that homosexuality is a sin, so anyone who chooses to be a homosexual is a sinner; and that, therefore, science can be wrong, scientists can be wrong. And then he applied that to thinking that the material in the textbook in that particular unit could be incorrect.”

Stockdale, however, did not report the alleged incident until after Freshwater was told to remove the Bible from off his desk in the spring of 2008.

Hearing referee R. Lee Shepherd, in his report, characterized the incident Stockdale described as being “Perhaps the most egregious example of John Freshwater’s ‘failure to adhere to established curriculum.’”

During the hearing, Freshwater testified that he never made the statement that Stockdale credited to him. Freshwater said that Stockdale may have overheard a conversation he had with other teachers regarding the Time magazine article about the gay gene.

Neither Shepherd in his report nor the school board in its resolution provided an explanation for why they chose to believe the testimony of Stockdale over that of Freshwater.

The records obtained by show that Stockdale never substitute taught for Mahan Sept. 1, 2005 through June 30, 2008.

In the written statement that Stockdale provided to the school during the H.R. On Call Investigation, Stockdale said:

“When this matter became public and removing the Bible from Mr. Freshwater’s classroom appeared to be the sole issue, I knew differently. Over the next few days, the question of whether or not John was proselytizing in his classroom was raised. I know for a fact that he was preaching.”

Freshwater has appealed the decision of the school board. In the appeal filed in February with the Knox County Court of Common Pleas, Freshwater addressed Stockdale’s allegation:

“Freshwater does not argue for his right to have said this; Freshwater denies saying this. Stockdale has no corroboration from students, or from parents, or from administration, no contemporary documentation, did not speak to anyone at the time, admits he does not have exact recollection of the things that happened that particular day, and at the time of the investigation he could not even remember what year this supposedly occurred. Yet, Stockdale is very specific in ‘recalling’ exactly what Freshwater said to his students. Without corroboration, it is IRRATIONAL to conclude that his testimony is true.”


Stockdale’s MVCS attendance report. 186 KB. PDF.

Stockdale’s letter. 126 KB. PDF.

Closing arguments.

Shepherd’s report and recommendation. 41 KB. PDF.

MVBOE termination resolution. 633 KB. PDF

Freshwater’s appeal. 3.25 MB. PDF

See the articles in the archive for additional coverage of the Freshwater controversy.

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