Thursday, January 14, 2010

Problematic Poster?

There used to be a poster hanging in the Mount Vernon Middle School library that stated “HE’S GOT the WHOLE WORLD in HIS HANDS.” (See previous article “He’s got a Poster at the School.” )

During the recent school board meeting on January 11—the board meetings are held in the middle school library—I noticed the poster was gone. Did someone at the school have a problem with the poster?

Perhaps someone realized that if this poster was going to be allowed at the school then maybe the poster that was in John Freshwater’s classroom was OK. (Freshwater had a poster that showed George W. Bush and his cabinet with their heads bowed.)

(The photo to the left shows a vacant spot on a middle school library wall where the poster used to be. The photo at the right was taken September 2009.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

MVBOE New Members Sworn In

New Mount Vernon Board of Education members Paula Barone and Steve Thompson took the oath of office at the board’s Monday organizational meeting. Prior vice-president Dr. Margie Bennett was nominated by Jody Goetzman, seconded by Thompson, to be the new president. Thompson nominated Goetzman, seconded by Barone, to be the new vice-president.

The organizational meeting was followed by the first regular meeting of the year.

There was no public participation.

Dates and times for upcoming board meetings will be posted on the board’s website:

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Missing Evidence in John Freshwater Hearing

The following testimony took place 10:03 A.M.—3:54 P.M. on 12/29/09 and 9:06 A.M.—4:36 P.M. on 12/30/09.

School board attorney David Millstone presented new evidence during the cross-examination of John Freshwater—documents possibly from Freshwater’s classroom. What didn’t turn up was evidence that Freshwater would like to see—his lesson plans and teacher edition textbooks with his handwritten notes.

Freshwater stated that these documents, which he thinks are in the possession of the Mount Vernon City Schools, would provide exculpatory and exonerating evidence.

The cross-examination of Freshwater began on Tuesday morning. Prior to Freshwater taking the stand, a previously unavailable witness gave a brief testimony regarding what the witness said was alterations on one of the board’s exhibits. (See previous article “Email Was Altered, According to Witness in John Freshwater Hearing.” )

(The Freshwater hearing is taking place in the Knox County Service Center.)

Student surveys/data sheets

The new evidence brought by Millstone included two documents that supposedly contain data collected about student Zachary Dennis at the beginning of the school year. Freshwater stated that he did not use this form.

Another document was a “multiple intelligence” survey. Freshwater stated that he also did not use that survey.

When The Columbus Dispatch published an article about Freshwater’s testimony, the article included misleading information. The article by Dean Narciso was titled “Mount Vernon science teacher's survey addressed faith.”

The title should have included an attribution for the assertion being made in it. Example: “Dispatch headline writer says Mount Vernon science teacher used survey that addressed faith.”

The caption provided by the Dispatch for a photo of Freshwater, included in the article, also contained misleading information: “Teacher John Freshwater at first denied in a hearing yesterday that he had surveyed students.” This incorrectly implies that Freshwater later changed his testimony. Freshwater never acknowledged using the survey.

Both the headline for the Dispatch article and the description with the photo were probably not written by the reporter, Narciso.

Several of the other “new” pieces of evidence were actually quite old. One was a letter dated 1994 that had at the top “to John Freshwater.” Another document was from 1988. Freshwater said that he had not seen these documents before.

The new documents were shown to Freshwater, however, the board has not made a motion to enter the documents as exhibits. Freshwater’s attorney, Kelly Hamilton, stated the following day that he will be objecting to the documents’ admission unless the board brings someone to authenticate them.

Answers in Genesis

Millstone questioned Freshwater about his prior testimony regarding Answers in Genesis. There wasn’t anything new to cover on this subject due to the thoroughness of attorney Hamilton during direct examination.

When Dispatch reporter Narciso wrote about the cross-examination, he expressed his opinion that Freshwater changed his testimony: “Asked if he referred students to Answers in Genesis, a religious Web site, Freshwater said no. Later, he reversed that statement, admitting that he had. ‘I'm not sure that you're taking it out of context,’ he said.”

Freshwater did not reverse his statement—what he did was try to clarify for Millstone what he meant by his testimony. The core of Freshwater’s testimony did not change. At issue was whether or not the word “referred” was the best description of what Freshwater did in regards to AIG.

Freshwater testified that the website showed up on a list of internet search results that was on the screen in class—a student later asked for permission to use the computer lab to look up the website. Freshwater allowed the student to do so. The second situation in which Freshwater “referred” students to AIG was when Freshwater took a van load of students and adults to the AIG museum.

Praying with students

One of the affidavits that Freshwater prepared—with the intent of providing it to the H.R. On Call investigators—deals with the subject of praying with students. Freshwater said that HROC should have asked some additional questions on the subject but since they didn’t he was providing some clarification in his written response.

In the transcript Freshwater made of the HROC interview, he says that he does pray with Fellowship of Christian Athlete students because he is praying all of the time. He also says that his praying could be oral or not.

In the portions of the affidavit that Freshwater referred to while testifying, he clarified that the prayers when he was around students were silent “Nehemiah arrow prayers.”

Tesla coil

Freshwater testified that he was surprised with how much the Tesla coil was discussed during the HROC interview—because the matter had already been resolved in January of that year. (See previous article “Tesla Coil Matter Was Officially Resolved January 2008.” )

Before touching volunteers with the spark from the Tesla coil, Freshwater said that he would first demonstrate the device on his own arm. He said that he would hold his arm up and apply the spark to a single area briefly.

Most students also only had the spark touched to their arm briefly before pulling away, Freshwater said. Of those that didn’t pull away, he would make the motion or movement of an “x” with the device but was not trying to make an “x” mark on their arm.

Freshwater said that he has not branded or burned any student—there is no evidence that he has harmed any student during the years that he used the device.

LEGO bricks

Millstone asked Freshwater if he ever used LEGO bricks in his class. Freshwater replied that if he has used them it has been a long time—he could not recall if he put LEGO bricks out on the table and asked students if the bricks could put themselves together.

Following these questions, Millstone played a recording of an interview from April 25, 2009— Right Remedy hosted by Dr. Patrick Johnston—in which Freshwater was also asked about the LEGO bricks:

Johnston: “And tell us about the LEGOs, I thought that was fascinating.”

Freshwater: “Students showed me, many years ago, and I used it up to 2003, these LEGOs, he actually did it for his senior paper, he did it and showed it to me, it is a very simple demonstration, gathering up a bunch of LEGOs, and he made a demonstration. He made an airplane or a car out of the LEGOs. And he had a bunch of other ones, same pieces, and he scattered them all on the floor, put them in a box and threw them on the floor. And he asked the kids to watch them there. And we watched them for a while and he said, if we watch them for a day will they form into this car or airplane? The kids said no. If we watched them for five to ten years, would they turn into this airplane—no. Or anything like this airplane—no. So he strung it out to ten thousand years, to millions of years, what is the chance of this becoming this airplane or this automobile? The kids all agreed it won’t happen, and then he, he, we, [sic] compare it to the eyeball, what is the complexity of the eyeball compared to the very simplicity of LEGOs coming together and forming a car like structure. And we all know that just a simple cell or groups of cells forming an eyeball is so complex with these DNA molecules, that the chance of that happening is slim to none.”
When the recording was done playing, Freshwater said that it was the student who did the demonstration with the LEGO bricks.

During redirect from his attorney, Freshwater explained that when Millstone asked him about the LEGO bricks he did not recall anything at all about the project—when the audio was played that refreshed his memory.

Freshwater said the interview itself was preceded by an off air discussion with the host about the student’s LEGO project—which helped him remember when he went on the air.

Expelled movie

Freshwater offered his 2007-2008 class an extra credit project that involved watching the movie Expelled: “Watch and exam [sic] the film ‘Expelled-Ben Stein’ and explain why it is important to examine this film objectively and not let bias affect your observations.”

Freshwater said that prior to giving the assignment he had not seen the film but did understand it to be a good science movie. The movie, he said, provided evidence of evolution and evidence for other ideas. Ultimately, he believed the movie to be about examining data objectively and not letting bias affect observations. Only two students did this extra credit project, Freshwater said.

(When student Zachary Dennis testified he said that he and a friend went and watched the movie the weekend that it came out. Dennis said that he was accompanied by his parents.)

Bible on the desk

Freshwater never removed the Bible from his desk—even when the school year ended. Freshwater said it wasn’t until late July or early August of 2008 that Superintendent Steve Short ended up giving the Bible directly to him.

The directions from school administration concerning the Bible were confusing, Freshwater said. He did admit that on two occasions—April 7, 2008 and April 16, 2008—he understood that he was supposed to remove the Bible from his desk.

Freshwater said that he prayed with his family and made what he believes is a constitutional decision to leave the Bible on the desk.

After April 16, 2008, Principal Bill White did not tell him that he had a continuing duty to remove the Bible—no one told him after that date that he still had to remove the Bible, Freshwater said.

He was never informed by White, Short or any other administrator that he could file a grievance, Freshwater said.

As evidence of his legal right to have the Bible on his desk, Freshwater pointed out that in a recording of Short, the superintendent acknowledged that another teacher, Lori Miller, could keep her Bible on her desk.

Additional statements by Freshwater

• At the time of his deposition for a federal case he understood the Tesla coil to have been disposed of in a landfill. He learned from his attorney, after making that statement, that his attorney hadn’t thrown it out but instead had given it to the board’s attorney.

• There is a difference between trying to find the truth and trying to prove a point. The board is trying to prove a point—they are trying to say that he is a Christian fanatic and that he was not teaching his students properly.

• The master contract states—“Article 4: Teaching Conditions: Individual Rights”—“The Board fully recognizes all personal rights and freedoms granted to teachers by the Constitution and the laws of the State of Ohio and the United States, and will abide by all laws that pertain to the teachers it employs. Further, the Board recognizes that teachers have the right to engage in a variety of personal activities and the Board will not take disciplinary action against a teacher unless a teacher’s personal activities interfere with the teacher’s performance of his/her contractual duties.”

• His beliefs did not interfere with his performance of his duties. He did his job, a very good job—look at his students’ OAT scores.

• He believes he had a right to engage in the activities on the town square. (See First Amendment to the United States Constitution: “Congress shall make no law […] abridging […] the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of grievances.”)

• After April 16, 2008 he did not get much help from the union. The union attempted to get him to sign papers that said they were not responsible for helping him—he did not sign the papers.

• The statement he read from on the square was written by Coach Dave Daubenmire. He only read portions of the statement.

• His son attended a Catholic school for a year—he would not have sent his son there if he thought ill of Catholics.

• HROC investigators were “trying to prove a point.” The “school board based their resolution almost strictly off that poor, poor report.”

• It is the administration’s responsibility to see to it that the contract was followed regarding the investigation.

• He received a phone call in June 2008 telling him he might want to look at the newspaper—the investigative report was released. That was how he found out HROC had concluded their investigation.

• The contract states that he “will” be given an opportunity to submit a comprehensive written response.

• There have been times during his testifying that he was “guarded”—he was not trying to be evasive although it may look that way. (For one reporter’s perspective on this topic, see Pamela Schehl’s article “Referee intervenes in hearing” published in the Mount Vernon News.)

• He would like to see Dispatch reporter Narciso go through forty hours, like himself, of sitting in the witness chair.

• Regarding the 15 affidavits he prepared in May 2008 that incorrectly list Franklin county as the place they were sworn: There is nothing in the contract that says his written response has to be a sworn statement. The location that they were signed does not make them defective under the contract.

• The two and a half hour interview with HROC did not cover everything that he was ultimately accused of.

• The Will Graham poster was placed there by FCA students—he understood that to be appropriate based on prior administrator Jeff Kuntz from 18 years ago.

• He did not talk about the Will Graham Celebration in the classroom.

• Prior to the HROC interview he did not know that he had rights under the collective bargaining agreement.

• He has assigned a project to students that involved having them describe an object in order to see how careful their observation abilities are. He did not recall if he ever used a trilobite as the object.

• He has taught about trilobites using the textbook—that they were extinct 400 million years ago. He never told students that the trilobites have been found with footprints or sandal prints.

• When asked if he has an opinion about whether the Bible provides that homosexuality is a sin, he responded that he did not have an opinion. (Note: The question was also worded one or two other ways, but I didn’t catch what the wording was.)

• The reason he went on the radio last week was to extend his hand out to the present board in order to try to resolve this issue. He wanted them to be aware that they had broken the master contract and that they had been missing information. He also said that he tried to track down all five members of the board and personally give them copies of all fifteen of his affidavits.

Legal expenses

Freshwater is currently suspended without pay. For those that would like to help with his legal expenses, checks can be made out to The Community Council For Free Expression (C.C.F.F.E.) and sent to

Trinity Assembly of God

1051 Beech St.

Mount Vernon OH 43050

For those that would like to help with the legal expenses of the school board—just pay your taxes.