Sunday, June 19, 2011

MV schools provides second presentation of ‘Religion in the Public Schools’

Late last month teachers at Mount Vernon City Schools were given the second installment in a set of presentations on church and state issues which were required under the 2009 settlement with the Dennis family.

The first presentation was given in August of 2009 by two attorneys. The second presentation was to take place by September 2010. Following inquires and a public records request from earlier this year, superintendent Steve Short said in March that the school was “in the planning stages for the second speaker.”

The presentation

The presentation May 25 was given by two law professors from West Virginia University College of Law: John Taylor and Anne Marie Lofaso.

(“‘Religion in the Public Schools’ - law professors speak to public school teachers”)

The topics covered were much the same as the first presentation: “Religious Liberty in America,” “Prayer in School,” “Religion in the Curriculum,” “Evolution vs. Creationism,” “Teaching About Religious Holidays,” “Religious Displays,” “Student Religious Clubs,” “Distribution of Religious Materials” and “Teacher Religious Expression.”

The only topic not covered this time that was covered during the previous presentation was school board polices concerning religion.

See here for a copy of the computer slides that were used during the presentation. 1.5 MB PDF

See here for a copy of the school board’s polices. 8 MB PDF

Additional information and alternative viewpoints

The Rutherford Institute

The Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties organization which is representing John Freshwater, provides resources for teachers and students about their rights and freedoms:

Pamphlet: Teachers Rights in Public Education (121 KB PDF)

Pamphlet: Students Rights in Public Education (59 KB PDF)

See here for a list of additional free resources from TRI.

David Barton, American historian

David Barton is the Founder and President of WallBuilders, an organization that describes itself as “a national pro-family organization that presents America's forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on our moral, religious and constitutional heritage.”

(“David Barton on America’s Christian heritage, constitutional issues”)

Barton was the keynote speaker at Citizens for Community Values’ spring partnership banquet in Cincinnati on April 25. Although his presentation was not focused on public school issues, he did speak about church and state issues including the concept of “separation of church and state.”

See WallBuilders’ YouTube channel for additional videos about America’s spiritual heritage and the current battle over public acknowledgment of God.

Thomas Paine on “The Study of God”

The following presentation by Thomas Paine is from the article “Thomas Paine Criticizes the Current Public School Science Curriculum”:

Delivered in Paris on January 16, 1797, in a Discourse to the Society of Theophilanthropists:

“It has been the error of the schools to teach astronomy, and all the other sciences and subjects of natural philosophy, as accomplishments only; whereas they should be taught theologically, or with reference to the Being who is the author of them: for all the principles of science are of Divine origin. Man cannot make, or invent, or contrive principles. He can only discover them; and he ought to look through the discovery to the Author.

“When we examine an extraordinary piece of machinery, an astonishing pile of architecture, a well executed statue or a highly finished painting where life and action are imitated, and habit only prevents our mistaking a surface of light and shade for cubical solidity, our ideas are naturally led to think of the extensive genius and talents of the artist. When we study the elements of geometry, we think of Euclid. When we speak of gravitation, we think of Newton. How then is it, that when we study the works of God in the creation, we stop short, and do not think of God? It is from the error of the schools in having taught those subjects as accomplishments only, and thereby separated the study of them form the Being who is the author of them. . . .

“The evil that has resulted from the error of the schools in teaching natural philosophy as an accomplishment only has been that of generating in the pupils a species of atheism. Instead of looking through the works of the creation to the Creator himself, they stop short, and employ the knowledge they acquire to create doubts of His existence. They labor with studied ingenuity to ascribe everything they behold to innate properties of matter; and jump over all the rest, by saying that matter is eternal.”

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.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ohio Department of Education tries to revive Tesla coil issue

The Ohio Department of Education sent a “Letter of Admonishment” to John Freshwater that claims Freshwater “engaged in conduct unbecoming to the teaching profession.” The only issue raised in the letter is the previously adjudicated issue involving the Tesla coil.

Without citing any evidence or sources, the ODE asserted that Freshwater’s use of the Tesla coil “resulted in an injury to a student.”

The referee who oversaw Freshwater’s state administrative hearing, R. Lee Shepherd, stated about the allegation of a student being injured:

“Due to the sensational and provocative nature of this specified ground, it and the facts and circumstances surrounding it became the focus of the curious, including those in the video, audio, and print media. Once sworn testimony was presented, it [became] obvious that speculation and imagination had pushed reality aside.”

As previously reported by KnoxPages editor Adam Taylor, Freshwater’s attorney R. Kelly Hamilton has sent a response to the ODE demanding that the letter be rescinded.

“Freshwater herein demands,” the response states, “the Ohio Department of Education’s letter of Admonishment be immediately rescinded as the allegations relied upon in the letter are false, erroneous, defamatory and unwarranted and subject to legal action.”

Hamilton cited ODE own rules which bar the department from issuing the admonishment due to the matter having been already resolved.

Hamilton further requested, if the letter is not rescinded, that an investigation be opened immediately into the conduct of Mount Vernon City Schools superintendent Steve Short and middle school principal Bill White.

Short and White did not report the alleged injury to Children Services. Hamilton said Short and White failed to comply with Ohio’s mandatory reporting requirement.

Hamilton also requested that the ODE investigate the other teachers who also allowed students to touch the spark from the Tesla coil:

“The essence of the Ohio Department of Education’s Letter of Admonishment is that educators should be disciplined for an alleged, now known to be false accusation of harm, despite having followed on-the-job-training procedures and making use of a Tesla coil in the exact same manner as colleagues with a pattern of conduct that had proven reliable and safe for over 20 years.”

Related documents:

Letter of Admonishment, dated March 22, 2011. 1 MB PDF.

Response to Letter of Admonishment, dated April 20, 2011. 766 KB PDF.

UPDATE: 5-23-2011:

The Mount Vernon News reported Friday that Stephen and Jenifer Dennis, through their attorney, submitted a request to the ODE asking that the letter of reprimand remain in Freshwater’s file and that Freshwater's teaching license be revoked.