Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Email Was Altered, According to Witness in John Freshwater Hearing

The following testimony took place between 9:14 A.M. and 9:49 A.M. on 12/29/09.

Former coach for Kenyon College, Ricky Warren, testified that an email used as an exhibit by the Mount Vernon Board of Education was altered. When shown a copy of the email prior to appearing at the hearing, Warren told John Freshwater’s attorney “[the email] looks a little screwy.”

The subject of the email was Warren speaking at the middle school for a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting. The message thread of the email included the prior email that was signed simply “Freshwater.”

Teachers that monitor FCA are supposed to leave the inviting of speakers to the students. Freshwater’s daughter, Jordan, previously testified that she was the one who invited Warren to speak at FCA.

Warren explained that the format of the email was not the way he normally writes. If he has been corresponding with someone for a while he does not include the recipient’s name at the top.

Another problem Warren saw was that the punctuation of the email doesn’t consistently follow the British style. Warren, who moved to the United States from Jamaica, has only spent the last nine years in the U.S.

In response to a question from Freshwater’s attorney, Kelly Hamilton, Warren agreed it looks like someone may have backspaced Jordan’s name off the end of the email.

The email also lacks Warren’s signature, which he said would be unusual for him to do.

Before moving to Connecticut, Warren attended church with Freshwater in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Warren said Freshwater mentioned on one occasion, at church, that his daughter Jordan wanted to speak with Warren—the extent of the discussion was that Jordan was shy about talking with Warren.

Warren reiterated that it was Jordan who invited him to speak at FCA. “The whole communication has been between me and her,” Warren said.

Warren is a 2004 graduate of Mount Vernon Nazarene University—click here for photos from his time as a player for MVNU men’s soccer team.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

John Freshwater: Investigation Didn’t Follow Contract

Science teacher John Freshwater was suspended without pay in the summer of 2008—the decision to do so was based primarily on a faulty investigation.

Freshwater testified recently, in the ongoing administrative hearing, that the investigators did not provide him with an opportunity to give a comprehensive written response to the allegations that were made against him. Mount Vernon City Schools’ master contract required the investigators to give him that opportunity before they completed their report.

H.R. On Call, Inc.

The firm hired to conduct the investigation, H.R. On Call, Inc., interviewed Freshwater on May 15, 2008. Freshwater, referring to a transcript he made of the recorded interview, said that in the meeting they discussed scheduling a second interview and that the union representative even said he would have an opportunity to give a comprehensive written response. (He said that shortly after the meeting he gave a copy of the recording to Bill White to give to HROC and that he gave a copy to the union.)

While waiting for the second interview, Freshwater prepared his written statement which consisted of individual affidavits responding to the allegations that he was aware of at the time. He explained that he prepared the written response so that HROC would have all the information to make a sound decision.

Also at the May 15 meeting, Freshwater said he discussed his intent to provide the names of additional people to be interviewed. The school contract required that all witnesses identified by the teacher be interviewed and written statements be obtained from the witnesses if possible.

The second interview never took place.

Freshwater testified that it was from the newspaper he learned the investigation had been completed. “Mr. Freshwater found out in the newspaper, not from the school or investigators,” according to Levi Stickle at cfacts.

Freshwater stated that the HROC report was not complete or neutral.

Bible on the desk

The year and a half controversy began with a complaint about Freshwater having a Bible on his classroom desk. The family that made this complaint has yet to be publicly identified. (For coverage of the controversy when it first started, see the article by Jami Kinton published in The Mainsfield News Journal, April 17, 2008.)

Freshwater received his Bible as a wedding present 29 years ago. While explaining why the Bible is so much of an inspiration to him, he became teary-eyed and had to pause. The Bible has many emotional associations for him—knowing that it is there helped him get through the day.

He wondered why the school permitted Lori Miller to have a Bible on her desk but yet would not treat him the same. “There should not be any difference,” Freshwater said.

Freshwater stated that the written and oral instructions from Principal Bill White were confusing regarding what he was supposed to do with the Bible. All items that White clearly identified as needing removed from the room were removed, Freshwater said.

Tesla coil

The HROC report included the allegation made by one student of being burned during a classroom demonstration of the Tesla coil. (See the article “Tesla Coil Matter Was Officially Resolved January 2008.”)

Freshwater said that he never endangered any student during his time as a teacher—did not brand a religious symbol on anyone and never saw any evidence of harm from his use of the Tesla coil.

One of Freshwater’s early performance evaluations directs him to “work closer with Jeff George in core course curriculum in physical sciences.” Freshwater said that he did and that is where he learned to use the Tesla coil.

An evaluation from October 8, 1999 mentions the Tesla coil being used in his class. Freshwater said that the evaluator, former Principal Jeff Kuntz, would have seen the hands on demonstration that allowed students to touch the spark from the device.

Freshwater characterized Kuntz testimony, of not remembering, as going “neutral.”

Fellowship of Christian Athletes / Alleged exorcism

During Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings, Freshwater explained, he would be at the back of the room eating his lunch and sometimes reading a newspaper. He said that he did not exceed his role as monitor—did not lead or conduct prayer, did not initiate having the speakers come, did not say anything about removing Satan from anyone.

Freshwater said that he does pray silently on many different occasions throughout the day, referring to them as a Nehemiah “arrow prayers.” Anyone that thinks he prays out loud with the students should get an audio recording, Freshwater said.

He was not aware of any rule that prohibited him from talking to the FCA speakers when he saw them out in the community. (One example he gave was running into Father Hammond at a CareNet banquet. Since the students had already mentioned having Hammond come to speak, Freshwater brought the subject up with Hammond with the intent of finding out when he was coming.)

Freshwater said that he never mentioned anything about removing Satan from anyone’s body. Zachary Dennis had claimed this, even giving the description of Freshwater having his hands raised above his head.

Earlier in his testimony, Freshwater presented documentation that countered Dennis’ claim. The document “from Knox Community Hospital show[ed] that he was in therapy at the time, because of a 'Smoke Jumping' injury, and couldn't raise his hand above his head,” according to Levi Stickle at cfacts.

During the last few minutes of direct examination from his attorney, Freshwater stated that if the medical records show that Dennis is lying, Dennis cannot be believed on anything else.

Teaching beyond the standards

The June 20, 2008 resolution of the Mount Vernon Board of Education stated that Freshwater taught more than the standards for eighth grade science:

“Mr. Freshwater taught additional subject areas that are not included in the eighth grade American [sic] Content Standards, including but not limited to: thermodynamics, the periodic table, the big bang theory and the creation of the universe. By using class time to explore these subjects, Mr. Freshwater failed to properly instruct his students in the approved eighth grade American [sic] Content Standards. This serves as a disadvantage to his students, as the Mount Vernon City School District is built upon a progressive learning model, where each grade builds upon the curriculum standards of the courses in earlier grades.”

Freshwater pointed out that the textbooks provided by the school include mention of the big bang theory. One of the textbooks also contains a two page spread with the periodic table. No one had ever told him that there were things in the textbooks that he could not teach or that the students shouldn’t look at certain pages.

There are some things that he teaches as background information so that the students will be able to grasp other concepts. An example he gave was teaching the kids about the basics of cells and atoms—the students need to have an understanding of size, from atom to universe. He said that sometimes the students think that atoms are larger than cells.

In order to make sure that students pass the OAT test, Freshwater said he does review material from the sixth and seventh grades. His response to whether or not his students were taught properly—look at the OAT scores.

During his most recent year teaching, his students met and surpassed state testing standards. Freshwater’s students outdid all other eighth grade science classes at Mount Vernon Middle School.

Additional statements by Freshwater

• Never had a negative evaluation; one of the evaluations says “there is evidence of mutual respect”, “John goes out of his way to keep parents informed”, “he has a good grasp of the standards” and “he understands his subjects well.”

• Mount Vernon City Schools puts a lot of weight on the OAT scores—they are a test driven school.

• Did not teach the meaning of Good Friday or Easter in his classroom.

• Never said opposites in magnetism attract and that it should be that way for humans as well.

• The Giraffe and Woodpecker worksheets were created by a former student; up until he stopped using them in 2003 they were used to show examples of improper use of scientific method. (These documents were submitted to HROC by Paula Barone.)

• He used stories from Chicken Soup for the Soul with the goal of providing moral or philosophical growth. (Ohio Revised Code 3313.601 states “No board of education shall prohibit a classroom teacher from providing in the teacher’s classroom reasonable periods of time for activities of a moral, philosophical, or patriotic theme.”)

• One of the evaluations talks about his “unconditionals” in a positive manner; the assignment, although extra credit, was for students to learn about unconditional love by helping someone without expecting anything in return from that person.

• The Watchmaker video was emailed to him; he watched it on his computer before school with his daughter and another person. His daughter Jordan showed it at FCA.

• His previous testimony regarding referring about a dozen students to Answers in Genesis needed clarifying; what he had been talking about was taking a van load of students and adults to the creation museum in Kentucky.

• His previous testimony about hydrosphere being a theory was incorrect; hydrosphere is only a hypothesis.

• It is permissible to allow students to debate creation and evolution; this debate was only held in one period during the school year 07-08 and was something these students wanted to do. His involvement was instructing them to research their position, giving them a few rules and supervising the debate to keep it civil.

• The HROC investigators did not ask him why he had the books, which were critical of evolution, in his classroom cupboard; he did not teach from these books or read them during class. He received most or all of them as gifts.

• People should not make assumption about someone based on the books that person owns.

• He did not make assumptions about Dr. Lynda Weston, former Director of Teaching & Learning, based on the books in her office. One of the books, which had her name on the inside cover, was The Case Against Standardized Testing—claims made in the book include “high scores often signify relatively superficial thinking” and “many of the leading tests were never intended to measure teaching or learning.”

• He received the Colin Powell/George Bush poster through his school mailbox. Two of his children are in the military, with one of them expecting to go to Afghanistan.

• His statement about referring Zachary Dennis to answersingenesis.org was in context of giving permission to Dennis to use the lab computers for research. Dennis had specifically asked if he could visit that site and Freshwater gave him permission; Dennis was only on the computer for five minutes until the bell rang.

• He had nothing to do with Dennis being assigned to his field trip group.

• Never made the statement that Jim Stockdale credited to him about gays; Stockdale may have overheard a conversation Freshwater had with other teachers regarding the Time magazine article about the gay gene.

• The use of the word “here” was not for the purpose of indicating that the textbook contradicted the Bible or his religious beliefs.

• He never tried to promote the Loch Ness Monster as a scientific concept.

• He never said that Good Friday should be called the greatest Friday ever.

• Did not assign Bible memorization to students; but has had his own children memorize scripture.

• He was sensitive to the fact that students did not want to come to the hearing to testify; some students were not called because he did not believe they could deal with being on the witness stand.

• He has no ill or bad feelings towards Catholics.

• Did not teach religious beliefs in his classroom.

• Was never a member of the union and had no knowledge of the grievance process.

Freshwater described himself as a positive person but that over the last year and a half he has become more cynical. This situation has also been hard on his family. Even with that, he said that he is not so disgruntled that he couldn’t work at Mount Vernon City Schools. He could walk in and pick up right where he left off—same administration and same board.


Additional media coverage of Freshwater’s recent testimony:

“Freshwater’s science classroom revisited” by Pamela Schehl for the Mount Vernon News. (December 9, 2009).

“Teacher continues defense” by Pamela Schehl for the Mount Vernon News. (December 11, 2009).

“Defense [doesn’t] rests in Freshwater hearing” by Pamela Schehl for the Mount Vernon News. (December 12, 2009).

(Note: Due to prior commitments, I was not able to be at the hearing for all of Freshwater’s testimony—as indicated in places, other sources were consulted for a few of the details in this article.)

Farewell to MVBOE Members Ian Watson and Steve Hughes

The last regular meeting of the Mount Vernon Board of Education for 2009, held on Monday, included a presentation of “Distinguished Service Award” to outgoing board members Ian Watson and Steve Hughes.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Barone Ad Prompts Policy Review at MVNU

The day of the school board election Mount Vernon Nazarene University Provost Henry Spaulding received a “few hot calls from the community” regarding an ad for candidate Paula Barone. The ad made a close connection between the university and an endorsement of Barone’s candidacy by a dean at the school.

(See previous coverage: “MVNU Dean Endorsed Paula Barone.” )

MVNU currently has no policy that addresses the issue of faculty or staff, in their official capacity, endorsing political candidates. “We are silent on that, that’s a hole in our personnel policies,” Spaulding said.

Spaulding said that he has no basis to reprimand Dean Sonja Smith, who endorsed Barone, because of the lack of policy addressing this issue.

As Spaulding understands the situation, he said that Smith was not aware that her endorsement was going to be used in a print ad.

Had Smith brought a proof copy of the ad to him, and asked about its appropriateness, Spaulding said he would have told her that the ad was not OK.

“She supports her, she is a friend with her, knows her,” Spaulding said. “As a private citizen she can endorse who she wants to, but the challenge of course is that [MVNU] doesn’t endorse candidates and [because of the ad] it appears that we do. So that is an issue we’ve got to deal with.”

The new policy has yet to be written, but Spaulding explained what he envisions it will state. “The policy will be that a professor or administrator at this university is prohibited from endorsing any candidate in the name of the institution or writing letters to the editor in support of candidates on [MVNU] letterhead,” Spaulding said.

In a situation where an employee of MVNU is running for political office, it would be OK to mention where they work as background information. “If they run for political office and they happen to, on a resume, mention where they work I wouldn’t have a problem with that,” Spaulding said.

When it comes to speaking about issues, it can be appropriate for a professor to be identified with the university, Spaulding said. An example he gave was if a professor was on Meet the Press and the host referred to the professor as being from the university.

Spaulding said that it is situations like the Barone ad that lead to the creation of new policy. “That’s how policies are born—to address issues,” Spaulding said.

AccountabilityInTheMedia.com writer Sam Stickle is a student at MVNU. This website is not affiliated with the university.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

MVNU Dean Endorsed Paula Barone

In a school district still wrestling with issues of church and state, one school board candidate won a seat on the board following a campaign that involved a much publicized endorsement from a dean at Mount Vernon Nazarene University.

Paula Barone’s campaign ran both a radio commercial and at least one print ad that made reference to the connection between MVNU and the woman that was giving the endorsement—Dean Sonja Smith.

MVNU is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization. As such, the university cannot make political endorsements.

The IRS gives the follow explanation in publication 557: “If any of the activities (whether or not substantial) of your organization consist of participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office, your organization will not qualify for tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3).”

Request for comment from President Dan Martin’s assistant Laura Short resulted in the scheduling of an interview with Provost Henry Spaulding for November 20.

The print ad that ran in the Mount Vernon News on November 2 was devoted to Smith’s endorsement of Barone. It had the following headline: “MVNU Dean Sonja Smith recommends Paula Barone.” Below that was a photo of Smith and Barone. The ad included a letter of endorsement that was designed in such a way that it appeared to be on MVNU letterhead.

(This ad was published in the Mount Vernon News the day before the school board election.)

Barone told AccountabilityInTheMedia.com that Smith was very much aware of the content of the ad. “The ad layout used Sonja’s name and title, as provided by her,” Barone said. (Click here to read full response from Barone.)

In an interview with Smith, the dean said that she did not review the print ad before it was published. Smith said that the letter in the ad was written by her but was provided to Barone via email and not on MVNU stationary.

Smith insisted that all the information in the ad was factual—she had endorsed Barone and also that the job title used in the ad was correct and even available at the university’s website.

The headline used in the ad was not something that she wrote, Smith said.

Smith stated that the election is done and over with—at this point she felt bringing up the ad served no useful purpose.

She had no intention of implying that the university was endorsing the candidate and anyone who interpreted the ad that way did not read it carefully enough, Smith said. She pointed out that nowhere in the ad does it say “MVNU endorses Paula Barone.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Meet the Candidates Night — Local 470 and MVEA

The following is the full video from the October 27, 2009 "Meet the Candidates Night"—a forum featuring candidates for the Mount Vernon School Board. (Length is one hour and 15 minutes.)

The video is hosted on Veoh.com and requires download of their player to view it in its entirety. (Please note: I cannot control the content of any ads they place in the video or other content on Veoh.com.)

Candidates in attendance: Paula Barone, Steve Hughes, Robert Kirk, Steve Thompson and Ian Watson.

The event was organized by the Mount Vernon City Schools Local 470 and MVEA.

Watch Meet the Candidates Night Local 470 and MVEA in News  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Unanswered Questions—Paula Barone and Personnel Policy

Paula Barone’s son Joseph testified at the John Freshwater hearing—in the spring of 2002 he said he informed his parents of concerns he had with his eighth-grade science class taught by Freshwater. His parents did nothing until the teacher made the news in the spring of 2008.

Joseph Barone, a student at Ohio State University, testified that he received a phone call from his dad asking about notes taken in Freshwater’s class. “I told him I think [the notes are] in a box in the basement,” Barone said. “He went through and said, I found some stuff.”

Those notes were later given by his mother to investigators. Thomas Herlevi, co-owner of H.R. On Call, spent 15 to 30 minutes interviewing her. (Joseph Barone was not interviewed by HROC—possibly due to his being away at college at the time.)

(Paula Barone, at right, listens to questions at “Meet the Candidates Night.”)

Paula Barone, who is running for the Mount Vernon Board of Education, declined to comment on her involvement with the investigation of Freshwater. She also declined to explain her views on personnel policy—specifically, the following questions:

Do you think teachers should be given performance evaluations?

If a teacher falls short of expectations, should that teacher be given instruction and opportunity to measure up?

Regarding complaints made against a teacher: What is your position on the appropriateness of using previously unreported complaints, from prior school years, as a means to support a complaint from the most recent school year?

The questions have been left unanswered by Barone—but her involvement in the HROC investigation may reflect a portion of her views on personnel policy.

On her campaign website, Barone, who is a retired teacher, does not articulate any concerns she has with how the school system currently treats personnel. She does make a broad statement in regards to upholding the law:

“I will promote implementation of best practices, and insist upon compliance with applicable state and federal laws in every Mount Vernon classroom, administrative office and support service”

Testimony of Joseph Barone

The school’s attorney, David Millstone, primarily focused on student witnesses that were not from Freshwater’s most recent class. (The HROC investigation itself did interview a few current students.) Student witnesses called by Millstone during the 2008/2009 school year: Zachary Dennis (recent student), Simon Souhrada (high school jr.), James Hoeffgen (high school sr.), Katie Button (college) and Joseph Barone (college).

After seven years Barone still had handouts from Freshwater’s class—he stated that he was pretty sure Freshwater allowed students to take the handouts home. Two of his fill-in-the-blank worksheets were on the topic of evolution. The papers, which discussed obstacles on the evolutionary path of a couple animals, ended with the phrase “Is there an I.D. involved?”

Referencing a page of his notes from class, Barone said that three theories about the development of species were discussed “probably from a lecture or a transparency.” He said that they were “Darwin, natural selection, Wallace, and intelligent design.”

After “intelligent design,” in Barone’s class notes, was the phrase “strictly religious.” The statement may have been made by Freshwater. “I would think that it was probably something that he said, but not necessarily with regards to it being invalid,” Barone said.

The topic of evolution wasn’t covered until near the end of the year. Barone said that Freshwater allowed the class to debate the topic—leading to some heated discussions. “I felt that [the students] said some things about my beliefs that were persecution in nature and that they weren't really mediated very well by our teacher,” Barone said.

Barone acknowledged that Freshwater never made any statements that were denigrating to him or his religion. Despite being offended by the statements of his classmates, Barone never talked with Freshwater about the problem. His parents also did nothing about the alleged problem in the classroom (from hearing transcript):

Q. “Could you have gone and talked to your mom about your concerns?”

A. “I did talk to my parents about my concerns when I got home at dinner.”


Q. “Ultimately, your mom nor dad did anything during that school year, correct?”
A. “Not that school year.”

Q. “They file any complaints on your behalf?”

A. “No, they did not.”

Barone gave several reasons for why he did not talk to his teacher about the problems in the classroom: Occasional negative comments were a part of going to school and interacting with his friends. He felt embarrassed going to someone with the problem. And he thought it wouldn’t do any good to talk with Freshwater—he thought he understood what his teacher’s views were and that they were too different from his own.

“Maybe he wasn’t aware of how out of control it was, but in my opinion, it was pretty out of control,” Barone said.

Although Barone described that year as being hard, he also said that it was a good year. “I loved my eighth grade year,” Barone said. “I was always looking forward to having Mr. Freshwater as a teacher. He had a great reputation as the kind of teacher you could feel comfortable with and friendly with. I still -- I maintain that friendship.”

Barone said that he probably received an “A” in Freshwater’s class.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tesla Coil Matter Was Officially Resolved January 2008

The claim that John Freshwater “branded” a cross onto the arm of a student was item number one of the June 20, 2008 resolution of the Mount Vernon Board of Education. Problem is the school had already signed off on the matter in January of that year.

It wasn’t until after Freshwater refused to remove a Bible off his desk that the allegation was resurrected.

The allegation of the burn has yet to be collaborated, during the administrative hearing, by any source outside of the Dennis family. Freshwater denies that anyone was burned in the classroom demonstration. Other teachers at the school also allowed students to touch the spark from the Tesla coil, including: Steven Farmer, Donald Newcomer and Lori Miller.

The letter to Freshwater setting the matter to rest was signed by Principal William White and Assistant Principal Brad Ritchey. “Subject to follow through on the above issues and no further incidences whereas anyone is being shocked with the machines this letter will not become part of your permanent record,” the letter states. (Click here to view copy of letter.)

White testified at Freshwater’s administrative hearing that the language of the letter, referenced above, was included at the direction of Steve Short, who at the time was interim superintendent.

Jennifer Dennis—mother of the student allegedly burned—testified that she spoke with Short about the incident and told him she did not want to see Freshwater fired over this. “I just felt this was not a good situation, and I was concerned,” Dennis said.

The allegation, although already resolved, was included in the report by H.R. On Call and was included in a lawsuit filed by the Dennis family against Freshwater and the school.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Meet the Candidates Tuesday (October 27)

The third opportunity to meet the candidates for the Mount Vernon Board of Education will be held on October 27 at the Mount Vernon Middle School. The following announcement is from the Mount Vernon News:

“Mount Vernon City Schools Local 470 and MVEA have invited the candidates for the Mount Vernon City School Board to participate in a meet the candidates night on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Mount Vernon Middle School commons. Candidates will be given an opportunity to give a brief introduction; each candidate will then be asked a series of questions from the classified staff and the teaching staff. There will be no questions from the audience, but anyone is welcome.”

Monday, October 19, 2009

Clear Policy & Performance Review System Needed – School Board Candidate Steve Thompson

The following article is based on an interview with Steve Thompson conducted on 9/26/09.

Steve Thompson cited mismanagement as the underlying cause of the current legal mess in the Mount Vernon City School District. Thompson, who is Vice President of Supply Chain at Ariel, said that if elected to the school board he would bring a valuable business perspective.

Proper management is essential to insure that teachers are afforded their due process rights, according to Thompson. “In any performance management system you have steps,” Thompson said. “What if you had an employee who received ‘meets or exceeds’ expectations, time in time out, every single evaluation, and then all of a sudden there is a movement to terminate them? Something is wrong in that system for that to happen.”

(Steve Thompson at “Meet the Candidates Night” asks how many people read the back page of the Mount Vernon City Schools calendar and saw the projected $3 million deficit for 2008-2009.)

It isn’t enough, Thompson said, to simply get rid of the John Freshwater matter—the underlying problems will cause another personnel matter to occur. He gave the Al Haschak situation as another example of excessive cost to the tax payers. The $500,000 plus spent on these matters could have gone towards improved services to the students or a reduction of the $3 million deficit for the 2008-2009 school year.

Thompsons said that the school system could take action on personnel matters with confidence if it first clearly communicates expectations, documents when someone falls short and then gives opportunity for measuring up to the goals. “When somebody falls short you put them on a plan to restore them to the job, and you give them certain steps to get there [by a defined time],” Thompson said.

The confusion among teachers, over what they can and can’t do, stems from inconsistencies in administration. “I want to see that [Superintendent] Steve Short has something in place,” Thompson said, “that ensures, from building to building, everyone of those principals knows how to effectively do performance management systems and I want to know that they are then talking to each other and that there is some mechanism for comparison so that one principal is not out of line with the others.”

Another source of confusion is the August 18, 2009 “Religion In The Public Schools” training given to teaching staff. Thompson said he had reviewed portions of the slides used for the presentation. “Those slides are part of the confusion that I’ve talked about, because there are people within that school system today that do not understand those slides,” Thompson said. “Those slides do not match the handouts that they gave the teachers.”

“I […] have a feeling that there is fear in our school system, fear in our administration,” Thompson said. “And probably some over-reactiveness and that over-reactiveness is borderline on infringing on peoples’ rights.”

Thompson said he did not want to comment directly on the content of the slides. “I want to know more when I’m elected and am on that board, what was intended by those slides,” Thompson said.

Thompson’s son, Andrew, is a teacher at the middle school and testified in the ongoing employment hearing for Freshwater. During that testimony, Andrew Thompson expressed concern about what he described as a “slippery slope”—teachers losing their sense of being free to be creative and effective in their teaching over concerns that someone might complain over the smallest thing.

Steve Thompson said that the issue of teacher moral cannot be dealt with by the board members getting involved in the day-to-day operations of the school system. “The board is a policy making body and members are the chief advisors to the superintendent on community attitudes,” Thompson said, reading from a document created by the Ohio School Boards Association. “Board members do not manage the day-to-day operations of the school district; they see to it that the system is managed by professionals.” He said that if the system is consistent it will help create a positive work environment.

Resolving the ongoing controversy at the middle school begins with the people involved learning all of the facts. “The only way you can possibly come up with something positive is to bring people together and sit them around and put all the facts on the table,” Thompson said. “You can’t do it when you isolate yourself on little islands. And that’s where we are, we have several little islands all around this issue.”

Settling a score for Freshwater, however, is not why Thompson said he was running. “I want to make sure,” Thompson said, “my fifteen year old daughter has the same educational opportunities and feels the same freedoms of being in a public classroom as what her older brother and two sisters did. That motivates me. And I want to make sure that my son, who is a teacher, and the rest of the teachers in the school system know exactly what is expected of them and can perform their job and moral is up and they are equipped with what they need and that at the end of the day the customers are duly served—the kids of this community.”

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Meet the Candidates Night — Knox County Ohio 912 Project

The following is the full video from the October 13, 2009 "Meet the Candidates Night"—a forum featuring candidates for the Mount Vernon School Board. (Length is one hour and 54 minutes.)

The video is hosted on Veoh.com and requires download of their player to view it in its entirety. (Please note: I cannot control the content of any ads they place in the video or other content on Veoh.com.)

Candidates in attendance: Paula Barone, Steve Hughes, Robert Kirk and Steve Thompson.

The event was organized by The Knox County Ohio 912 Project.

Related video: October 8, 2009 “Mount Vernon Schools Going Forward.”

Watch Meet the Candidates Night (School Board) Knox County Ohio 912 Project in News View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Paula Barone Video – August 4, 2008 Mount Vernon School Board

I’ve uploaded the video of Paula Barone from when she spoke at the August 4, 2008 school board meeting.

I had originally left her comments off YouTube due to a portion of her comments being retracted—but since she is now a candidate for the board her comments are of more importance than they might have seemed last summer.


A person on Knoxpages.com, identify himself as Sam Barone, posted the following comment about the video:

“Thank you, mountvernon1805, for recovering Paula's comments from that meeting. I was never prouder of my wife than I was that evening as she so articulately stated the case for religion-neutral classrooms in our public schools.

“I was, of course, disappointed that I had misidentified Mr. XXXX (I don't want to unfairly name him again) to her as the individual who had approached me at the previous board meeting. But as you noted, I immediately rose to apologize to Paula, and to Mr. XXXXX, for MY mistaking his identity. Ironically, the Minuteman member who had made the comments to me WAS in the audience that night, but made no attempt to take ownership of them. I thought that particularly cowardly on his part.

“Nevertheless, thank you again mountvernon 1805 for making available to everyone Paula's comments from that evening. I believe hearing them (despite MY regretable error) will help Mount Vernon School District voters understand why the school board needs someone of her integrity, clear thinking and, above all, respect for all Mount Vernon students.”

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mount Vernon Schools Going Forward – School Board Candidate Forum

The following is the full video from the October 8, 2009 “Mount Vernon Schools Going Forward”—a forum featuring candidates for the Mount Vernon School Board. (Length is one hour and 48 minutes.)

The video is hosted on Veoh.com and requires download of their player to view it in its entirety. (Please note: I cannot control the content of any ads they place in the video or other content on Veoh.com.)

Candidates in attendance: Paula Barone, Steve Hughes, Robert Kirk and Ian Watson. Opening remarks on behalf of Steve Thompson delivered by David Stuller.

Watch Mount Vernon Schools Going Forward in News View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

The Knox County Ohio 912 Project has announced that they are organizing a second forum, scheduled to take place on Tuesday October 13 at 7:00 p.m.

The location is the Memorial Theater 112 E. High Street Mount Vernon, Ohio.

They are charging one dollar per adult. According to an automated phone call promoting the event, the money raised will be given to Interchurch Social Services. The message also stated that the public will be given a chance to ask the candidates questions.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

School Board Candidate Forum Thursday (October 8)

The Knox County Democratic Women website posted the following announcement concerning a chance to hear from the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education candidates:

"School Board Candidates to Discuss Future of Mount Vernon Schools

"7pm, Thursday, October 8

"'Mount Vernon Schools Going Forward,' a forum featuring candidates for the Mount Vernon School Board, will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 8, in the Educational Service Center on Martinsburg Road in Mount Vernon.

"Candidates Paula Barone, Steve Hughes, Robert Kirk and Ian Watson will discuss their qualifications and respond to predetermined questions from moderator Dr. Peggy Dunn. The questions fall into the broad categories of curriculum and finance.

"This event is organized by the Knox County Democratic Women as a community service (school board positions are non-partisan) and the general public is encouraged to attend. Candidates will not be asked any questions related to legal matters that are now before the board."

Monday, September 7, 2009

He’s got a Poster at the School

A poster hanging on the wall of the Mount Vernon Middle School library states “HE’S GOT the WHOLE WORLD in HIS HANDS.” It’s been there for awhile, apparently posing no problem to anyone—including school board members who hold their monthly meeting in the room.

The quote originates from a song by the same name. A teacher’s study guide available online for the song—created by Kadir Nelson who’s name also appears on the poster—says that the students should be asked their thoughts on the meaning of “He.”

(This poster is on display at the Mount Vernon Middle School library. The poster artwork is by Kadir Nelson.)

(This poster was deemed to be religious by school administration. The photograph was taken January 28, 2003. © Brooks Kraft/CORBIS. The poster was printed by Freeport Press, Inc.)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Media Didn’t Tell Whole Story about “Settlement”

The spin by much of the mainstream media was that the Mount Vernon school board had really accomplished something. In reality, the “settlement” reached with the “Doe” family states that the school is still liable for the teacher at the center of their lawsuit.

The settlement also creates a couple of unusual obligations for the board even if this November election changes the makeup of the board. At the end of the administration hearing for teacher John Freshwater, the board is to make a public statement using wording contained in the settlement. The board also is to have an individual, who is named in the settlement, speak to Mount Vernon City School administrators and staff about church and state issues. (Click here to view copy of the settlement.)

The speaker is Melissa Rogers who is to give a presentation to school administration and staff on “1st Amendment, Religion, and Public Education.” Rogers is director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School. She was appointed by President Obama to the President’s Advisory Council for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The settlement states that if Rogers is not available to speak then a “nationally recognized speaker” with “similar credentials” is to give the presentation.

The second unusual obligation the board has entered into is the public statement they have to make regardless of the outcome of the administration hearing:

“Throughout this process, the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education has been concerned about elements in this community who decided to attack the student and family who reported concerns about John Freshwater. It is critical for our students to be able to come forward with concerns or issues so they can be addressed. The Board applauds [name redacted on document] for the courage he had in coming forward.”

After the referee makes his recommendation at the completion of the hearing, the board is responsible for deciding if Freshwater keeps his job. Board members have not been attending the hearing.

Although the name of the student was redacted on the copy of the settlement provided by the school, his name was released last October. He is Zachary Dennis; his parents are Stephen and Jennifer.

Only $5,500 for the student, plus one dollar for each parent, is being given directly to the Doe family. The rest—$115,500—is going to their legal costs. The attorney representing Freshwater in the administrative hearing, R. Kelly Hamilton, described the low amount the family is receiving as telling. “The merits of the allegations are reflected in the nuisance value of the settlement,” Hamilton stated. “John Freshwater counterclaimed against the Doe family because the allegations were false and defamatory"

The settlement has to be approved by the Knox County Probate Court. Due to one of the claims made in their lawsuit being that of an injury, the settlement may fall under the court’s “Rule 68.4” regarding an injury settlement with a minor. If the court finds that the settlement does involve an injury claim and the dollar amount of the settlement is $10,000 or less, the injury will have to be examined by a physician. “The application shall be accompanied by a current statement of the examining physician in respect to the injuries sustained, the extent of recovery thereto, and the physician’s prognosis,” court rules state.

During the time that the burn injury was alleged to exist on the arm of the student, no physician examined the area. Presumably, any examination now will result in the prognosis that he has no injury.

Only the Doe family has claimed to have seen the burn—no classmates, neighbors, or teachers have stepped forward during the hearing and claimed to have seen it. The student’s mother said she spoke with Superintendent Steve Short the day after the alleged incident happened but at the time did not want a big deal to be made out of the incident.

The middle school principal, Bill White, testified last October that he was asked by Short to investigate Freshwater’s side of the story. White, however, was not permitted to look at the student’s arm. “At the point when Mr. Short gave me the pictures, he said the parents didn’t want anybody to know who they were,” White testified. “And other than going through a thousand arms at school, I wouldn’t have.”

The alleged burn was the most sensational part of the statements made by the Doe family. They also claimed the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was violated within the school district.

Attempts to get a response from legal representation for the school, in regards to why Freshwater was not included in the settlement, have been unsuccessful. Attorney Sarah Moore did not respond to a request for comment. Attorney David Millstone stated that he was not involved in the settlement.

Hamilton, attorney for Freshwater in the administrative hearing, did state that Freshwater was not asked to be a part of the recent settlement. “The last time John Freshwater was offered a settlement was in March 2009,” Hamilton stated. “John Freshwater wants the TRUTH to be revealed. John Freshwater is not looking for a settlement that simply gets him out of the legal action - he wants TRUTH which will vindicate him.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

School Board Votes To Give Teacher’s Accusers $121,000


In a strange move—but perhaps one that should not come as any surprise—the Mount Vernon City School Board voted Wednesday to give the Dennis family $121,000. Had this been any other school board, you might expect that they had reached a settlement. Not so for this board.

The lawsuit will continue in spite of giving thousands of dollars—through the board’s insurance company—to the suing family. The headline in the Mount Vernon News would have you believe that the lawsuit has been settled—the News went so far as to title their article “School board resolves federal lawsuit.”

In return for the money, the Dennis family is supposed to drop as defendants: the board, superintendent and middle school principal. The lawsuit will continue but with the pretense of only including the teacher, John Freshwater.

The News quotes the board as making a statement that implies the payment to the Dennis family will help the school district focus on educating the students. “Being in the business of educating children, the board recognizes the need to remain focused on what is best for the students of this district,” the board stated, according to the News.

The payment, when it is made, will in effect help fund the family's continued lawsuit against the teacher. Does this help the district focus on educating the students? Would the students, and tax payers, been better served if the board had only agreed on a payment—if there really was a need to pay the suing family—on the condition that the lawsuit IN ITS ENTIRITY be dropped?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Questionable Science: New Book Takes On Evolution

Book review.

Supporters of prohibiting evolution from being questioned in the classroom like to evade the problems with the theory by turning the debate’s focus onto creationism. Author Lisa A. Shiel takes evolutionists to task for this type of evasiveness in her new book The Evolution Conspiracy: Vol. 1 Exposing Life’s Inexplicable Origins & The Cult of Darwin.

Shiel approaches the evolution controversy from a secular viewpoint. She points out that it is not just those trying to promote creationism that have serious doubts about evolution as legitimate science.

In confronting the status quo, Shiel will undoubtedly receive rebuttals that go no deeper than name calling. Some critics will probably point to the subject matter of her previous book Backyard Bigfoot: The True Story of Stick Signs, UFOs, & the Sasquatch as reason to dismiss what she has to say. This book is not for them. Shiel has written for a lay audience that is willing to listen to the facts about the “science” of evolution.

In this book, Shiel delves into the ambiguity surrounding definitions of the scientific terms involved in the study of evolution and other disagreements in the science community. (Topics include punctuated equilibrium and gradualism.) The consensus among scientists is that evolution took place—somehow.

Scientists offer the “explanation” that evolution works by gradual change through mutations and natural selection—somehow this led a single cell over billions of years to produce humans. Try testing that in the laboratory. Shiel says that scientists have skipped over the scientific method in their hast to conclude that evolution is true.

Let’s not forget the fossil record. Darwin even recognized in his day that the absence of numerous links posed the biggest challenge to his idea. Punctuated equilibrium—which Shiel abbreviates to “punk eek”—attempts to sidestep the problem by stating that evolution occurs in occasional spurts that don’t make it into the fossil record. (Would anyone like a miracle with that explanation?)

Paleoanthropologists, for their part, sift through the fossil record looking for any evidence they can find of the missing links. Shiel says that their finds often consist of just a few bones or a partial skeleton reconstructed from bits of bones that were scattered across a wide area. As an example, Shiel points to the famous “Lucy” skeleton. Only 40% of the skeleton was recovered but it is still sometimes referred to as “almost complete.”

The 132 page book cuts through the confusion in the science community and offers readers explanations that get as close as possible to what scientists are thinking. Readers, however, will be left with one big question: Why would anyone think evolution is a fact?

The book, to be released September 1, is available for pre-order at Amazon.com.

Friday, August 7, 2009

John Freshwater Files Writ of Mandamus with Supreme Court of Ohio

The ongoing dispute over the legality of school board members quashing subpoenas, issued to fellow board members, has been taken to the Supreme Court of Ohio. On Tuesday, suspended Mount Vernon Middle School teacher John Freshwater filed a Writ of Mandamus requesting that the court order two board members to testify in an ongoing employment hearing.

The matter was previously taken before the Knox County Common Pleas Judge Otho Eyster who ruled in July that he had no jurisdiction to force board members to testify. Eyster implied in his ruling that the board had the authority to quash subpoenas but gave no explanation as to the legal reasons.

In a subsequent interview with Eyster by Mount Vernon News reporter Pamela Schehl —“Judge explains denial in Freshwater case”— the judge gave additional details. “Since the matter is an administrative hearing, the judge said, the board has the legal authority to issue and quash subpoenas,” Schehl wrote.

Neither in Eyster’s ruling or in statements credited to him in the News article did the judge cite the applicable law or judicial precedent that gives the board the authority to quash subpoenas.

The board did not seek to have a judge quash the subpoenas. The minutes of the May 4, 2009 school board meeting show that the board voted to quash the subpoenas of Margie Bennett and Ian Watson.

In addition to the disagreement over authority to quash subpoenas, the board and Freshwater disagree over who was originally subpoenaed. The “Application to compel attendance of witnesses in the employment hearing of John Freshwater” that Freshwater’s attorney, R. Kelly Hamilton, filed in June also lists Jody Goetzman as a board member who was subpoenaed.

The petition filed with the Supreme Court of Ohio includes a copy of an email allegedly sent by board attorney David Millstone to Hamilton. In the email, Millstone informs Hamilton of two subpoenas being quashed and a third one not being issued. “There is no person known as Jodi Fair to the Board and therefore no subpoena was issued,” the email states.

An affidavit by Freshwater, included with the recent petition, alleges that Goetzman’s name was included in the request for subpoenas. “On or about April 28, 2009, me and my attorney submitted another specific Request to Issue Subpoenas to the BOE’s attorney seeking to have subpoenas issued to the BOE’s Watson and Jody Goetzman to appear for testimony and produce specific documents,” Freshwater stated.

Board member Bennett is not included in the recent petition as someone being requested to appear to testify. Only Watson and Goetzman’s names are included. The board’s attorneys had raised the concern earlier that if three or more members were required to testify, and if they had to subsequently disqualify themselves, there would not be a quorum when it came time to vote on whether or not to retain Freshwater as a teacher.

As support for why Freshwater wants the two board members to appear to testify, the petition cites testimony from the hearing that the two individuals who brought the primary complaints against Freshwater, that led to an investigation, spoke with board members multiple times about the allegations.

The petition claims that by the board members refusing to testify they are depriving Freshwater of his due process rights:

“As set out hereinafter, Respondents, collectively and or individually and or in concert with one or more of each other, have refused and continue to refuse to perform mandatory statutory duties, have engaged in non-permissive action and refuse to proceed with legal process whereby Respondents thwart and deny Relator Freshwater due process of law.”

(Click here to go to the Supreme Court of Ohio website for documents in the case State of Ohio ex rel. John D. Freshwater v. Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education et al.)

For further information, see past articles on this topic:

“School Board ‘quashed’ Subpoenas in the John Freshwater Hearing.” (6-12-09)

"School Board Gives Reason for Not Complying With Subpoenas." (6-18-09)

"Subpoenas in John Freshwater Hearing -- School Board Says Judge Doesn’t Have Jurisdiction" (6-20-09)

" Judge Says He Doesn’t Have Jurisdiction " (7-9-09)

UPDATE 8/9/2009:

The portion of this article that dealt with “Rule 24(A) of the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure” was deleted due to the probability that it was not actually being used by the board as support for being able to quash subpoenas. It was probably only cited by them as the basis to submit their reply to the original document filed at the county courthouse.


See the following Mount Vernon News article regarding the resolution of this matter before the Ohio Supreme Court: “Ohio supreme court rules in school board’s favor.”

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cattywampus and Teaching Critical Thinking

I recently came across an old article from Life magazine about a teacher who sounds a lot like Mount Vernon Middle School teacher John Freshwater. The article, by David Owen, was titled “The Best Teacher I Ever Had.”

The author’s science teacher encouraged his students to use critical thinking and to be willing to question not only the textbook but also the teacher. The students even had a code word they would say aloud when they questioned the validity of something—Cattywampus.

(Click her to read the full story.)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Once Again - Letter to the Mount Vernon News

The following “letter to the editor” was submitted to the Mount Vernon News on July 30, 2009 in response to an editorial published by the News on July 28.

Editor, the News:

Once again, the Mount Vernon News editorial writers have focused on what they perceive as the time-wasting thoroughness of John Freshwater’s attorney. The July 28 “Our opinion” described Freshwater’s attorney, R. Kelly Hamilton, as using “trivial entries” in Ohio law to buy more time while he appeals to the Ohio Supreme Court regarding the subpoenas of school board members.

Why is the News more concerned about finding fault with Hamilton’s methods of representing his client than with the ways the school board and administration failed to protect Freshwater’s rights? Does the News consider the due process portion of the U.S. Constitution to be trivial?

A better use of the editorial writers’ time would be looking into the process the school used to investigate Freshwater. Was the decision of the school board to suspend Freshwater without pay valid if they didn’t follow the investigative process in the Master Contract?

The contract states that all witnesses identified by the teacher will be interviewed, written statements will be obtained from the witnesses if possible and the teacher will be given the opportunity to give a comprehensive written response to the complaint being made against him.

David Millstone, attorney for the school board, made the recommendation to the school that they use H.R. On Call to do the investigation. Considering that Millstone had worked with HROC on prior occasions, he would have been familiar with their investigative methods. Does any of the fault for the current mess the school is in rest on Millstone?

The News credited Hamilton with pulling a “magic trick” in delaying the hearing while he seeks to have several board members testify. It would seem that Millstone has pulled a magic trick of his own—in the eyes of the News’ editorial team he can do no wrong.

—Sam Stickle


(Click here to read previous letter to the editor.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Author of Second Helpings Responds to Book Controversy

Books such as Second Helpings provide an opportunity for parents to discuss the challenges of adolescence with their teens, according to author Megan McCafferty.

McCafferty’s novel was brought up during the last Mount Vernon, Ohio, City School Board meeting. Jeff Cline spoke about the book briefly and gave the board a list of words he said were in the book and that he deemed to be inappropriate. (See article about the last board meeting.)

Although McCafferty stated banning a book was probably not the best way to deal with a controversial book, she did agree that parents should be involved in the reading choices their teens make. McCafferty said the first step should be for the parent to read the book. “If a parent finds the content problematic then it is by all means his/her right to discourage his/her child from reading it,” McCafferty said.

Author Megan McCafferty posted a “Tweet” on her website about Jeff Cline’s comments concerning her book.

The following is the complete text of McCafferty’s response to an email query from AccountabilityInTheMedia.com:

“Whenever someone asks whether my books are appropriate for his/her teen, I **always** recommend that he/she read it first. If a parent finds the content problematic then it is by all means his/her right to discourage his/her child from reading it. (A great benefit to the teen book boon is that there are plenty of other options to choose from.) However, it's been my experience that the majority of parents don't object to the language because they understand that my books reflect how teens actually act and speak, rather than how some adults wish they did. The older readers often see themselves in the realistically-drawn characters and they appreciate the series for revealing how we all make mistakes and (hopefully) learn from them. I've been thanked by countless mothers for opening up a dialogue with their daughters. My books have provided a means for discussing uncomfortable--and universal--aspects of adolescence. Having that conversation, however awkward, seems more beneficial than banning.”

For more information on McCafferty’s books, visit her website.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Politics of Scientists and the Media

It isn’t news that the media has a liberal bias—but what about scientists? According to a recent survey by Pew Research Center, 87% of scientists identify themselves as being either moderates or liberals while only 9% of scientists are conservatives.

Promoters of Darwinian evolution don’t like it when they are confronted with the public’s desire that both sides be taught on the issue of origins science. They often defend the exclusion of other views by stating that science isn’t a democracy.

It sure isn’t—it sounds like they think they are an aristocracy.

The survey found that the public’s views on the issue of evolution was “strongly linked to religion.” “The dominant position among scientists – that living things have evolved due to natural processes – is shared by only about third (32%) of the public,” the survey stated.

Among scientists, 51% believe in God or a higher power while 95% of the general public believes in God or a higher power.

Should the “aristocracy” decide what is taught in the PUBLIC classroom?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Judge Says He Doesn’t Have Jurisdiction

Knox County Common Pleas Judge Otho Eyster said he only has jurisdiction to compel the attendance of a witness when the person refuses to comply with a subpoena. In the case of Mount Vernon school board members, they were not refusing to comply because they had already “quashed” their own subpoenas, Eyster stated.

In his ruling on Tuesday, Eyster gave no explanation as to the legal reasons for the board being able to dismiss their own subpoenas.
(Click here for copy of ruling.)

For further information, see past articles on this topic:

“School Board ‘quashed’ Subpoenas in the John Freshwater Hearing.” (6-12-09)

"School Board Gives Reason for Not Complying With Subpoenas." (6-18-09)

"Subpoenas in John Freshwater Hearing -- School Board Says Judge Doesn’t Have Jurisdiction" (6-20-09)

UPDATE: 7-11-09

Mount Vernon News reporter Pamela Schehl has written an article—“Judge explains denial in Freshwater case”—that gives further details on the judge’s decision. “First, he explained, to quash a subpoena means it’s as if it never existed,” Schehl wrote.

The judge is credited as saying that his ruling had nothing to do with the appropriateness of the board choosing to quash the subpoenas—it’s a matter of them simply being able to quash. “Since the matter is an administrative hearing, the judge said, the board has the legal authority to issue and quash subpoenas,” Schehl wrote.

UPDATE 7/14/09:

R. Kelly Hamilton, Attorney for John Freshwater, stated that he plans to appeal the decision made by Judge Eyster. Hamilton said that there will probably not be a decision on that appeal until close to the time when the two related federal cases go to trial—the hearing will be on hold until that time. (Source: “John Freshwater interview” 7-10-09 Bob Burney Live Programs.)


See the following Mount Vernon News article regarding the resolution of this matter before the Ohio Supreme Court: “Ohio supreme court rules in school board’s favor.” 

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Evolution – Is It More Speculative Philosophy than It Is Science?

Darwinian evolution pushes the boundaries of science—maybe to the breaking point. It falls into the category of “origin science” and attempts, like intelligent design (ID), to answer the philosophical question of “Where did we come from?”

Those that advocate teaching evolution in the public school system, at the exclusion of other views, do so claiming that it is scientifically testable. The irony is that those same people often do not want the tenets of evolution to be challenged in the classroom.

Back in 2003, Mount Vernon Middle School science teacher John Freshwater submitted a proposal to the school titled “Objective Origins Science Policy.” If the school had adopted the proposal, it would have expanded the teaching of evolution to include information on any “assumptions which may have provided a basis for the explanation being presented.”

John Freshwater’s 2003 Proposal

The focus of the proposal was on keeping bias out of science and encouraging the students to use critical thinking when learning about evolution. The proposal, in part, read:

“It is the intent of this board that to enhance the effectiveness of science education and to promote academic freedom and the neutrality of state government with respect to teachings that touch religious and nonreligious beliefs, it is necessary and desirable that science which seeks to explain the origins of life and its diversity (origins science), be conducted and taught objectively and without religious, naturalistic, or philosophic bias or assumptions… .”

The language of the proposal did come from the website of an ID organization— intelligentdesignnetwork.org (IDN). The proposal, which makes no mention of creationism or ID, was voted down by the school board. (See copy of the proposal and the Science Curriculum Committee response.)

IDN says that while the language of the proposal “would permit appropriate discussions about design theory, it does not require that schools teach design theory.”

Science Curriculum Committee

The letter written by the Science Curriculum Committee—on why they did not recommend the board adopting Freshwater’s proposal—addressed the proposal as if the proposal had been to teach ID. (A copy of the letter was provided to AccountabilityintheMedia.com by John Freshwater.)

The only thing in Freshwater’s proposal that comes close to inclusion of ID is this statement: “understand the full range of scientific views that exist regarding the origins of life and its diversity, and understand why origins science may generate controversy.”

The language of the proposal contained no statement that ID was part of “the full range of scientific views.” For the Science Curriculum Committee to come to the conclusion that the proposal was to teach ID, they first had to accept ID as science. However, in their own words they said it was not science:

“Intelligent Design is not science: not repeatable, measurable, etc. (belongs perhaps in social studies).”


“Intelligent Design is basically a religious issue—how do we account for all other religions not represented [...]?”

The committee acknowledged that some portions of the proposal was appropriate and in fact was already a part of school policy:

“Proposed mentioned critical thinking skills—redundant, we’re already doing this.”


“The board of education policy addresses controversial issues—Freshwater proposal is already addressed.”

Is Evolution Controversial?

While the proposal was under consideration, Rev. Donald Matolyak wrote a letter to the superintendant and the board about the issue. One of the reasons that Matolyak gave for why the board should support the proposal was its consistency with school policy on controversial issues:

“The policy states that ‘consideration of controversial issues has a legitimate place in the instructional program of the schools. Properly introduced and conducted, the consideration of such issues can help students learn to identify important issues, explore fully and fairly all sides of an issue, weigh carefully the values and factors involved, and develop techniques for formulating positions.’”

The committee stated in their letter that eighth grade science did not have anything controversial in it, even though the standards for that grade did include evolution.

According to a list supplied by Freshwater, one of the members on the committee was Bonnie Schutte. During Schutte’s testimony at Freshwater’s employment hearing, she acknowledged that evolution was a controversial topic in society but said that it should not be. “If evolution was taught in a scientific manner, they would no longer think evolution was controversial,” Shutte said.

Andrew Petto, in an article for The National Center for Science Education—an organization dedicated to promoting evolution—agrees with Schutte’s assessment. “Biological evolution is a scientifically settled theory,” Petto states. “Among scientists, this means that its fundamental principle —the shared ancestry of living organisms —has overcome all scientific challenges.”

Not everyone agrees with Petto. Ken Ham, in an article for Answers in Genesis—a creationist organization—argues that evolutionists have failed to prove that mutations can produce the diversity of life that now exists:

“Most students in evolutionary-biased education come to believe that mutations and natural selection result in one kind of creature changing into a totally different kind over long periods of time. The fact that mutations do not add new information to the gene pool is rarely mentioned. All we have ever observed is variation within a kind. Science has never observed a change from one kind to another kind.”

Legal Issues

One of the eight reasons the committee gave for not approving the proposal was ominous—it simply said “Illegal.”

The IDN website gives some information on legal issues raised by the evolution controversy. It cites the Supreme Court in the case of Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 104 (1968):

“Government in our democracy, state and nation, must be neutral in matters of religious theory, doctrine, and practice. It may not be hostile to any religion or to the advocacy of no-religion; and it may not aid, or foster or promote one religion or religious theory against another or even against the militant opposite. The First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.”

IDN argues that origin science is a religiously charged issue:

“Although the State should avoid involvement in religious issues, when it decides to provide information to children about where they come from, the State has chosen to encounter a religiously charged question. Once in this arena, it must remain constitutionally neutral. The best way to maintain this neutrality is to see that the subject is taught objectively.”

On An Editorial Note

Writing as a journalist about the debate between evolution and ID is difficult. Both sides have strong opinions—and journalists are not immune from seeing the claims being made by one side or the other as being more credible.

I could almost swear that the most avid supporters of Darwinian evolution are lying about their views not being speculative philosophy. It presents a challenge for me to take the evolutionists seriously, when every time I have heard them speak or read their literature they were unable to scientifically support their view.

Those that believe in creationism or ID admit that although they claim some scientific support for their view, the interpretation of data related to origins science is often influenced by a scientist’s assumptions.

To what extent should the agenda of avid evolutionists be patronized? Should the government continue to back down in face of their demands that they be given exclusive control of the science classroom?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ian Watson Responds to Doing It Right

President of the Mount Vernon City School Board, Ian Watson, acknowledged Monday that the book Doing It Right had been in the school’s library, but said that it was removed at the start of last school year. During public participation at the board’s previous regular meeting, Jeff Cline read a portion of the book aloud.

The book Doing It Right is intended as a sex education book for the ninth grade level. (See Amazon.com for description of the book.)

Watson stated—at the July 6, 2009 board meeting—that individuals need to first use the system in place for making complaints about objectionable books before taking those complaints to the school board. “[The system] won’t work if nobody uses it,” Watson said. (See copy of the procedure for making complaints.)

Cline said he would try to set up a meeting with the principal of the high school to discuss the books that he finds objectionable. He said that a woman from his church has tried going through the school’s procedure for making complaints but that each time it did not work.

The book that Cline spoke to the board about at this month’s meeting is Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty. This time, Cline said he checked just before the start of the meeting to make sure it was still in the school library. He gave the board a list of words that he said were in the book.

Cline has spoken about the content of books in the school system on several prior occasions (YouTube videos):

(Jeff Cline reads Doing It Right-- June 15, 2009)

(Jeff Cline Speaks About Books in School-- April 06, 2009)

(Community disagreement with the school board's decision. 9/8/08 Part 2 of 2)

(John Freshwater August 4th 2008 (part 6)) (Cline is at 2:30 in video.)

UPDATE 7-9-09:

Pam Schehl reported—in an article for the Mount Vernon News, “Volleyball team feted by MV school board,” on July 7, 2009—that Ian Watson stated the book Doing It Right is not in the school library. (The article makes clear which book is being referred to, for those that have been at the school board meetings, but does not include the name of the book in the article. The title of the book Jeff Cline spoke about on July 6, 2009 is included.)

The article by Schehl does not include the fact that Watson did acknowledge that the book had been in the library.

UPDATE 7-16-09:

For a response from Megan McCafferty, author of Second Helpings, see the article: “Author of Second Helpings Responds to Book Controversy.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Re-teaching John Freshwater’s Ace Students

The following testimonies took place on 10/30/08—this article relies on the official hearing transcript for details of the testimonies.

At least one high school teacher claimed that she had to “re-teach” students that came to her from the eighth grade science class of John Freshwater. During the 2007-2008 school year, Freshwater’s students passed the Ohio Achievement Test at the highest rate for the school—meeting and exceeding state standards.

An investigative report commissioned by the school stated that multiple high school teachers complained of having to “re-teach” Freshwater’s students—but the report did not give the names of the teachers allegedly making that claim.

Freshwater is on unpaid administrative leave pending an ongoing hearing into his performance as a teacher. (Following his refusal to remove a Bible off his desk, allegations emerged that a student was burned during a science demonstration and that he taught creationism in class.)

High School Principal Kathy Kasler

The report by H.R. On Call (HROC) included the statement that the high school principal, Kathy Kasler, received complaints about Freshwater from the teachers. “The High School Principal said that Mr. Freshwater has caused issues for her high school teachers in having to reeducate students from his teachings,” the report stated.

Kasler never sat in on any of Freshwater’s classes. She acknowledged that she has no firsthand knowledge about the allegations against Freshwater.

Freshwater’s students performed well on the OAT, Kasler said.

The complaints Kasler said she received were from four teachers including ninth grade teacher Bonnie Schutte. Kasler said that Schutte was the only person to bring “surveys” from the students.

The surveys were conducted at the beginning of the year and covered the topics of what the students “dislike about science”, “like about science” and “what they want to be in future.” Kasler said that Schutte had been bringing those surveys to her for all of the eight years they had known each other.

The HROC report quoted from some of the surveys. The comments included: “Evolution, and why that isn’t probable and how it is.” “The Big bang theory was the most important concept I learned in science.” “Studying evolution out of the book because it is all opinion. Not proven facts.”

Freshwater taught about 100 students per year—Schutte would bring surveys from about 20 students, Kasler said. Of the three or four times that Freshwater’s name would be mentioned in one year’s batch of surveys, the comments students would put down were “I liked when he taught, he showed us how to view (sic), that we should not believe everything,” Kasler said.

Some of the surveys did not have a student name on them, but of the ones that did, Kasler said she checked and found out who their teacher from the eighth grade had been. She said the names checked out as being former students of Freshwater.

Attorney for Freshwater, R. Kelly Hamilton, asked Kasler if she knew what Schutte may have said about Freshwater in her classroom. Kasler was not aware of Schutte saying anything about Freshwater, but she had not asked Schutte about that.

Kasler said she had passed the complaints on to the principal of the middle school.

When Kasler had a child in the eighth grade, she said she requested to not have her child in Freshwater’s class:

“[Because of the subject of creationism] my husband had told us if anything like that gets pulled and my child has him, I will in a heartbeat call the ACLU, and I don't care where you work. So in order to keep peace in my family and life simpler, I made a request.”

Schutte said that she probably would have made the same request even without her husband’s prompting.

Ninth Grade Science Teacher Bonnie Schutte

Student Surveys

Bonnie Schutte said that the surveys she had the students fill out were not intended to be scientific surveys. She acknowledged that the surveys did not isolate variables such as where the student learned the information that they wrote down.

Attorney Hamilton stated for the record that he objects to the surveys as evidence—describing them as hearsay. (It is very likely that the referee, R. Lee Shepherd, will agree. He has even declined to allow sworn affidavits from people unless they appear in person.)

Schutte said that she has never been in Freshwater’s classroom and does not know firsthand what he teaches.

During her testimony, Schutte gave conflicting information as to how long she had been conducting the surveys and turning in information about Freshwater’s students.

The first time she was asked, she said it had been for the last 19 years—she even gave names of some of the principals she made the complaints to: Ms. Kasler, John Kuntz, Blain Young and that there was another principal that she could not remember the name of.

The second time, Hamilton worded the question as “You've been focused on John Freshwater for 19 years in this regard, correct?”

“No, sir. I go about my daily teaching,” Schutte replied.

Schutte said that it would have actually been around the year 2002 that she started making her complaints to administration.


The term “re-teaching” had at least two different meanings for Schutte: First, that the students already knew the material so they were re-learning it. Second, that they were disagreeing with her in class and needed to learn to accept what she was telling them.

Schutte described students that came to her from Freshwater’s class as “bored”:

“[S]ince Mr. Freshwater had one third of the students I teach, then those students think they already know about chemistry, so I have to have them, you know, kind of cool their heels a little bit while I explain to the other students what an atom is and that type of thing. They're bored. They think they know everything already. They don't know why we use the periodic table or that you don't memorize it and you don't know why we learn it. They've memorized it so they're done.”

The other problem Schutte ran into was students speaking up in class—she said that they would say things like: “that's not what Mr. Freshwater said or that's not true” , “carbon dating isn't true or isn't accurate” , “There's no evidence for Big Bang” and “The reason there are dragons in so many cultures is that people and dinosaurs lived at the same time.”

Schutte said that students can have their own opinions but that they need to learn the material.

Controversy Among Scientists

Attorney for the school board, David Millstone, asked Schutte about controversies in the scientific community over theories, to which she replied:

“I don't know that there would -- I can't think of a situation where there would be a controversy in the scientific community about a theory.”


“They literally gather data, write to each other, now they can email each other and discuss everything. They get together and talk about it and they agree, okay, this is a body of evidence that's supporting all this, yeah, we're on the right track.”

Schutte acknowledged that there are some disagreements among scientists—such as disputes over the age of things. “There’s arguments as to 4.3 or 4.5, the universe 13 or 20 billion years,” Schutte said.

On the subject of evolution, Schutte said that there is “discussion” among scientists over punctuated equilibrium vs. gradualism.

Scientific Definitions

Attorney Hamilton shared with Schutte an excerpt from an “observation form” about Freshwater’s class that was filled out by former principal Jeff Kuntz:

“The lesson began with Mr. Freshwater giving three statements to his pupils. A hypothesis is an educated guess. A theory is an established fact that scientists believe to be true. To infer is to get an idea from your observation. These statements were shared one at a time from student to student around the room. Mr. Freshwater timed each activity.”

Hamilton then asked if Schutte agreed with the definitions.

On “hypothesis”: “I think by telling students a hypothesis is an educated guess, it gives them the wrong interpretation. It's not guesswork. You have to have background information before you can make a hypothesis, so you're not really guessing. But that's what most people tell -- how most people teach it.”

On “theory”: “But the thing -- theory is an established fact that scientists believe to be true. The word believe. […] The term believe I don't think should have been used, but I can see why somebody would say it that way.”

On “infer”: “[T]hat's fine.”

Schutte agreed that, based on the form, former principal Kuntz found Freshwater’s teaching on the matter to be acceptable.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

Watching the movie Expelled, and then writing about it, was one option on an extra credit assignment given by Freshwater. Attorney Millstone asked Schutte if she was familiar with the movie and if she would consider it something that related to the science standards.

Schutte said that she had not seen the movie but had watched an interview of the movie’s producer, Ben Stein, and had read descriptions of the film. She said that it did not relate to the science standards.

The movie includes the claim that people in the education profession have lost their jobs because they expressed belief in Intelligent Design. Schutte said that claim was false. “So it wasn't because they were intelligent design people,” Schutte said. “They weren't researching. So the implication that they were fired because they're creationists isn't true. I know that's part of the movie and that's from the National Science Teachers Association.”

A search of the NSTA website (using the search term “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”) turned up two entries—an article and a podcast. Both items relied on the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) for their information on the movie.

The mission statement on the website of the NCSE says that the organization is “dedicated to keeping evolution in the science classroom and creationism out.”