Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Religion in the Public Schools

One of the stipulations in the partial settlement reached between the Dennis family and the Mount Vernon Board of Education was that the school system was to provide training to teachers on state and church issues.

Back in August of 2009, two attorneys—David Millstone and William Steele—gave a presentation to the teachers titled “Religion in the Public Schools.” (At some point there is to be a second presentation on the issue by Melissa Rogers, director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School.)

(The presentation given to Mount Vernon City Schools’ teaching staff last year.)

Although the August 2009 presentation was previously reported on by the Mount Vernon News, for those interested in more details about the presentation and the viewpoints of the school district’s attorneys, the following is a copy of the computer slides used for the presentation:

(In response to a request from AccountabilityInTheMedia.com, Millstone provided clarification on a couple points—see copy of email (80.68 KB PDF). )

On the topic of religion in the public schools, a federal judge earlier this year handed down a strongly worded decision:

“Ironically, while teachers in the Poway Unified School District encourage students to celebrate diversity and value thinking for one’s self, Defendants apparently fear their students are incapable of dealing with diverse viewpoints that include God’s place in American history and culture.

“But to assert that because [Bradley] Johnson was a teacher, he had no First Amendment protections in his classroom for his own speech would ignore a half-century of other Supreme Court precedent.”

The decision is worth reading in its entirety:

Bradley Johnson vs. Poway Unified School District, et al. (105.13 KB PDF)

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 mvohio.net 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”