Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Static Electricity

The following testimony took place between 3:04 P.M. and 3:17 P.M. on 1/16/09.

Donald Newcomer teaches sixth-grade math at Mount Vernon Middle School—his 31 year career in the Mount Vernon City School District includes teaching sixth-grade science.

Like eighth-grade science teacher John Freshwater, Newcomer used a Tesla coil during some of his lessons. Newcomer said that he used the device to help students to become excited. It was used during a unit on electricity.

Newcomer described touching the energized device like that of rubbing your feet on carpet and then touching something.

About 100 students touched the device during the times he demonstrated it—all willing volunteers, Newcomer said. The students would touch it with the tip of their fingers. Some students chose not to touch it.

The only times that he had it up to full voltage was when he would demonstrate with it by putting the tip of the device near the metal on the chalk board. When doing this he would sometimes turn off the lights in the room so the students could see the spark better, Newcomer said.

Like other teachers who have testified, Newcomer said that he has no safety concerns about the Tesla coil. Newcomer said he would not use the device if he thought it was going to hurt anyone.

Newcomer has two daughters that went through Freshwater’s class. His daughters never complained about Freshwater—one even recently commented to him about having liked Freshwater, Newcomer said.


The manufacture of the Tesla coil, Electro-Technic Products, Inc., gave this description of the device: “It has an output of between 20,000 to 45,000 volts, at a frequency of approximately 500kHz. When properly adjusted, when the electrode is held within ¼ to 1 in. (6 to 25 mm) from a metal object, a spark will jump to the metal. Current output of the spark is about 1 mA.”

High voltage is present anytime a spark is visible—even if it is a spark that resulted from walking across carpet and then touching a door handle. (The amperage of electricity is primarily responsible for injuries, not the voltage.)

The length of the spark is a good indicator of how high the voltage is. To learn more, visit the webpage by William J. Beaty “‘Static Electricity’ means ‘High Voltage’: Measuring your body-voltage.”

Monday, January 19, 2009

Science Teacher: Tesla Coil is Safe

The following testimony took place between 2:29 P.M. and 2:45 P.M. on 1/16/09.

Steven Farmer—an eighth grade science teacher at Mount Vernon Middle School for a period of four years ending in 2005—testified about his experiences with the Tesla coil. (Farmer is currently a science teacher at Mount Vernon High School.)

Farmer used the Tesla coil during lessons on gases and electricity.

Using the Tesla coil on students allows them to experience the flow of electrons first hand, Farmer said. One way Farmer used it was for him to touch the device and then have a student touch his hand. The other way was for them to touch it directly. Farmer said that he never used it on anyone’s arm.

(Witnesses and those who came to watch the Freshwater termination hearing on Friday faced sub zero temperatures.)

If the Tesla coil is grabbed tight it does not hurt, Farmer said. However, he does not think that a person would leave their finger on the device for long. Farmer said that he has only used the device on someone for a second, or a few seconds, at a time.

The first time that Farmer remembers seeing the Tesla coil was when he was a student at the middle school. Farmer said that he had Jeff George as a science teacher but does not remember if George used the device on anyone.

The Mount Vernon News managing editor Samantha Scoles interviewed George for an article they published on April 25, 2008, titled “Experiments typical part of curriculum”: “George said that in his lessons he used Telsa coils and the Vandergraph conductor, a smaller version of a device found at COSI that sends your hair in all directions when touched.”

When Farmer teaches science, he brings in material to supplement what is provided by the school. Most of the outside material is from research done on the internet which Farmer puts into slides he creates in Microsoft’s PowerPoint program, Farmer said.

Kelly Hamilton, John Freshwater’s attorney, asked Farmer if teachers have wide latitude in what they can bring into the classroom. Farmer agreed that they do.

Hamilton asked Farmer if there had been any instructions with the Tesla coil. Farmer was not sure if there were any written instructions—he said that he probably received general instructions on how to use it.

The report by H.R. On Call, Inc. contained the statement, “There was no written instructions that could be located with the device, however operating instructions were available and could be downloaded from the company’s website.” The warning in the downloadable manual is to “Never touch or come in contact with the high voltage output of this device, nor with any device it is energizing.”

Hamilton asked Farmer if he had ever thought to look for instructions on the web about using the device.

Farmer replied that he never searched the web for instructions.

Hamilton reminded Farmer about his statement that he used the web for research when preparing lessons. Hamilton then asked—since Farmer was comfortable with using the internet—why he did not look for that information on the web.

Farmer’s response was that he did not go looking for more information because he already felt comfortable in his ability to use the Tesla coil.

Hamilton brought out the exhibit of the two photos supplied by the Dennis family. Hamilton asked Farmer to look at the photos and tell him if he had ever seen anything, as a result of using the Tesla coil, that looked like what was depicted in the images.

The two photos show someone’s arm, allegedly that of Zach Dennis, with what appears to be burn marks. In one photo the burns appear as the shape of a capital “T.” The second photo the burns form the shape of a lower case “t.” (There are also what appears to be additional red lines running parallel to the trunk of the “T.” The camera angle, and the lighting, is such that these lines are de-emphasized.)

After examining the photos, Farmer said that he has never seen marks like that from his use of the Tesla coil. There has never been any blisters, raised skin or red marks, Farmer said.

Farmer said he has never received any complaints about Freshwater.
(The electrostatic device is manufactured by Electro-Technic Products, Inc. Photo. )

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Middle School Guidance Counselor: Had Colin Powell/Bush Poster in Office

The following testimony took place between 2:00 P.M. and 2:26 P.M. on 1/16/09.

Ben Sanders, a guidance counselor at Mount Vernon Middle School, testified that he had the “Colin Powell/Bush” poster in the office in which he counsels students.

John Freshwater’s attorney, Kelly Hamilton, has been asking witnesses about their knowledge of the poster. Hamilton asks them if they have a copy of it or if they have seen it displayed at the school. Display of this poster is one of the reasons that the report by HR On Call, Inc. declared Freshwater “insubordinate.”

The poster shows Colin Powell and President Bush in prayer. Written at the top of the poster is a portion of James 5:16: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

Sanders had his copy of the poster behind his office door such that it was visible inside the room when the door was closed. It was visible to students that were in the room for counseling.

Being a guidance counselor means helping students that are dealing with personal problems such as problems with friends and parents, Sanders said.

On the back of the poster is scrawled a thank you note from former principal Tim Kieb to Sanders. In the note Kieb says, “Thanks for ministering to the students and myself” and “You won’t know how much I needed you this year.”

Sanders described that year as one in which the school was short on people. It was also Sanders’ first year working at the middle school. Sanders commented that a person can “minister” through their actions, it does not necessarily require speaking.

The back of the poster was photocopied by the hearing official and entered as an exhibit.

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

Sanders also had a small cross sculpture on the corner of his desk. On the cross was written a portion of Jeremiah 17:7: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.”

Neither the cross nor the poster is kept in Sanders’ office now. Assistant principal Brad Ritchey recently asked for them to be removed, Sanders said. Ritchey talked with Sanders two times about the cross—the first time to tell him that he might need to remove it, and then the second time asked him to remove the cross and the poster, Sanders said.

Sanders said he has heard about inspections (for religious items) being done in classrooms, but has not seen them doing it.

Part of Sanders’ job responsibilities is to check classrooms before tests are given to make sure that there is nothing being displayed that might give students answers to test materials, Sanders said. He has pulled some items while doing this task and as he understands it, he does have the authority to do this. Administration can remove things from classrooms because it is the school, not the teacher’s personal space, Sanders said.

Hamilton asked Sanders if there are any places in the classroom that are off limits to the students. Sanders replied that students are not supposed to go behind the teacher’s desk—this is a teacher rule to respect this space, not a school rule.

Sanders said that he has been in most, if not all, of the classrooms at the school and has seen religious items such as a cross, angel, saint and an American flag which had the words “In God we trust.” He did not give these things much thought until the recent controversy came up.

Sanders never saw Freshwater teaching or preaching from the Bible, but Sanders never spent a lengthy amount of time in Freshwater’s classroom.

Four years ago, his daughter was in Freshwater’s class and was involved with Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA)—she never had any complaints about Freshwater, Sanders said.

Hamilton asked Sanders if he knew the school’s policy on religion in the classroom. Sanders said he did not remember the policy word for word but that it basically was, “Don’t promote any religion over another.”

Sanders was not interviewed by HR On Call, Inc.