Friday, May 28, 2010

Freshwater Controversy in Episode of Law & Order

The season finale of the police and legal drama Law & Order deals with teachers who have had their careers harmed by “nuisance complaints” from students.

One of the teachers included in the episode “Rubber Room” shares something in common with suspended Mount Vernon Middle School teacher John Freshwater—he was accused of branding a cross onto a student with a Tesla coil.

During the course of the episode, the police interview several teachers who might be able to provide a lead on a suspect. All of the teachers tell stories about being wronged by the system. The first teacher the police talk with is science teacher Ron Kozlowski:

Teacher: “It’s absurd, I didn’t brand anybody. You know what a Tesla coil is?”

Investigator: “Yes. [pointing] That.”

Teacher: “Correct. I assume you know what it does?”

Investigator: “It generates an electrical current.”

(A teacher on  Law & Order, “Rubber Room,” describes using the Tesla coil on students.)

Teacher: “Good job. Last year, as I’ve done hundreds of times before, I did a little demonstration by passing the current over the arms of my students, left a little redness on the skin. Next thing I know there is a complaint filed that I ‘branded crosses.’ I was suspended pending an arbitration.”

Investigator: “One of your students wrote about you on his blog. He said you were a church freak.”

Teacher: “I’m a religious person, I don’t make any bones about that.”

Investigator: “We’re trying to identify the student who wrote this about you on his blog.”

Second investigator: “He probably gets A’s in English, drives a silver Honda.”

Teacher: “No. Doesn’t ring a bell.”

Investigator: “What about the student who filed the complaint, you have his name?”

Teacher: “There was more than one student. The Department of Education wouldn’t tell me their names. Sorry you had to drive all the way out here.”

Investigator: “Sorry you ended up out here.”

Teacher: “After four months of suspension I quit New York and took a job here. Half the salary, twice the commute, but at least I’m teaching.”

A person with the username "seabiscuit" on pointed out the connection between the Law & Order episode and the local controversy. "How about that!" seabiscuit wrote. "This situation has now been woven into a television show!"

Monday, May 10, 2010

Student Testimony—John Freshwater Addresses School Board

John Freshwater told the Mount Vernon Board of Education that he believed the board was not being updated on the testimony from his hearing.

During Monday’s board meeting, Freshwater summarized the recent testimony of ten students.

The ten students were from the same class as Zachary Dennis, Freshwater said.

Freshwater supplied the board with copies of the affidavits from the witnesses.

Board members did not respond to Freshwater’s comments but did allow him additional time beyond the standard three minutes for public participation.

UPDATE—related documents:

Student affidavits (3.45 MB PDF).

The PDF contains the affidavits of most of the student witnesses that testified at the Freshwater hearing April 29-30, 2010.

UPDATE—related media coverage:

The following are two articles from the Mount Vernon News about the student testimony at the Freshwater hearing April 29-30, 2010:

“Freshwater: Source remains mystery”

“Students testify in Freshwater hearing”

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Motion to Close John Freshwater Hearing—Jury May Be Influenced By Media Coverage

John Freshwater’s attorney is requesting that the administrative hearing be closed to the public and the media. In the motioned submitted Tuesday, attorney R. Kelly Hamilton expresses concern that the eventual jurors for the upcoming federal trial may be influenced by media coverage of the hearing:

“Upon each hearing date multiple media sources have attended the hearing and made report in various news outlets. The change in circumstances is presented in that potential jury members could be exposed to media reports that may unduly influence, create or lead to bias, detected or undetected through voir dire. The cognitive influences of primacy and recency potentially created by media reports could jeopardize John Freshwater’s position in the federal trial as eventual jurors may be influenced or biased as a result of the media reports emanating from the remaining hearing testimony to be taken in this matter. An example of such influence against John Freshwater is included as Exhibit A wherein John Freshwater received an unsolicited letter of opinion from a person not familiar to John Freshwater. Media attention in this matter has been constant and at this juncture the teacher, John Freshwater, may be further unduly harmed by uninformed recipients of journalism that is designed to sell news rather than accurately present a fair and balanced report.” (Emphasis added.)

In addition to concern about media influence on jurors, Hamilton stated that other reasons for closing the hearing are: “Articulated witness apprehension.” “The prospect of revealing the anonymous source identity.”

(Click here to read the motion.)

The hearing is set to resume on April 29, according to the Mount Vernon News. The hearing will be taking place at the Mount Vernon City Schools Central Office at 300 Newark Road.

UPDATE 4-28-10 at 4:20 p.m.:

The hearing scheduled to resume on Thursday will be open to the public. Referee R. Lee Shepherd issued his decision Wednesday on the request to close the hearing.

“There being no statutory rights to close (make private) a contract termination hearing once a public hearing has been requested, the teacher’s motion is denied,” Shepherd stated.

(Click here to view a copy of the decision.)