Freshwater Day 13: A Parade of Teachers & Staff

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I was unable to attend Day 13 of the hearing. A water pipe froze overnight and I spent my day dealing with that. However, two spectators at the hearing were kind enough to send me their notes on the day’s testimony, and I’ve lightly edited them to produce this account. In addition, there are stories in Mt. Vernon News and in the Columbus Dispatch, both of which are quite detailed.

(I’ve done a little late editing to reflect feedback from one of the correspondents.)

More below the fold

This is the account sent to me by one observer. It’s in the form of a narrative. It’s lightly edited for formatting.

Today started late but I am not sure why as both attorneys were present in the building at the expected 9:00 am start time although R. Kelly Hamilton was not in the hearing room until approx. 9:20 am.

Today’s testimony began with Tammy Henry, 8th Grade Language Arts teacher who had worked in conjunction with John Freshwater. Her initial testimony focused on student journals written in during bell time during the 2007/08 school year. Although she could not produce these journals because they had been returned to students at the end of the school year, she expressed her belief that if there had been anything wrong or anything inappropriate done in Mr. Freshwater’s class that the students would have told her about it by writing something in their journals about the incident. She further testified that she was certain that if Zach Dennis had been burnt by the Tesla Coil that he would have definitely told her about it.

During her testimony, Henry equated the use of the Tesla Coil in class to the electricity and electrostatic exhibits at COSI and didn’t see how the Tesla Coil could cause harm if the COSI exhibits, which seemed to her to be exactly the same, did not.

She testified that it was her belief that newspapers in general were the equivalent of National Enquirers and has informed her students that what is written in newspapers can’t be believed. She stated that the newspapers printed lies and refuted the validity of a specific allegation toward Mr. Freshwater that had been discussed in the newspapers. She surprisingly contradicted her statement that newspapers can’t be believed in later testimony saying that she thought something that was printed in a particular newspaper article was actually an allegation of the lawsuit even though she had never read any part of the actual lawsuit that has been filed in Federal Court and had relied solely on the newspaper for that piece of information.

Her testimony was followed by a parade of teachers, guidance counselors and computer resource technician of the MV City Schools, including Brian Cook, 8th Grade American History; James Marth, Grade 4, Dan Emmett Elementary; Sara Malone, 7th Grade Social Studies; John Frye, MVHS Head Teacher, Dean of Students; Brian Gastin, MVHS English teacher; Ben Sanders, MVMS Guidance Counselor; Steven Farmer, MVHS Science; Don Newcomer, 6th Grade Math; Ken Wiles, Computer Resource; Dave Carter, MVHS Guidance Counselor (H-O); Scott Dapprich, MVHS Physical Education/Health teacher.

In general, R. Kelly’s questioning of these individuals was fairly repetitive with many or most being questioned regarding some of the following:

- Whether or not they had been interviewed by HR OnCall. None had.

- Whether or not they had sons/daughters who had Mr. Freshwater for a teacher or FCA Advisor. A number did in one or the other or both.

- Whether they had ever heard any complaints about Freshwater’s class or teachings or acts while being an Advisor of FCA. All testified that they had not heard any complaints.

- In reference to previous testimony by Chuck Adkins, did they feel they had a wide latitude in bringing in outside materials to teach from with specific questions regarding any movies that they allowed their students to watch during school time. All the teachers, with the exception of John Frye, responded that they felt that they had wide latitude in bringing in outside materials as long as they pertained to the grade level benchmarks/indicators and as long as they were not controversial. John Frye felt that teachers did not have a wide latitude and felt that teachers should be more restricted to book and classroom materials. Mrs. Malone indicated that she had shown the movies, “Prince of Egypt,” “Jason of (and the?) Argonauts” and “Obsession.” Mr. Farmer was questioned about his use of websites to create PowerPoint presentations in his classroom.

- Whether they had seen Mr. Freshwater ever reading his Bible or teaching from it or whether they had ever seen Mr. Freshwater teaching religion in his classroom. All witnesses testified that they had not seen John read from or teach from the Bible and none had ever seen him teaching religion in the classroom, although none had actually sat through one of John Freshwater’s classes.

- Whether they had seen any religious items (including Bibles) in any classrooms in the school district and who had those items in their classrooms or offices (including specific reference to the Bush/Colin Powell poster with Biblical Verse at the top). The following names of teachers were brought up as having Bibles on their desks: Lori Miller, Brian Gastin, and John Freshwater. It was also reported that Hayes Dean had Bible verses on the pictures of his kids, Carter had a Bush/Colin Powell poster and a teacher with the last name of Smith had a Bible verse.

- Whether they had actually had religious items of their own in their classroom. Gastin testified to having a Bible on his desk and a plaque of Jesus “at the door” beneath his desk as well as a Colin Powell poster which he had removed a week or so ago; Sanders testified to having a cross figurine in his office as well as the Colin Powell poster on the back of his door; Dapprich testified that he had a Bible and two Bible verses in his office.

- Whether or not they, themselves, had used the Tesla coil in their classroom. Farmer and Newcomer testified that they used the Tesla coil in class.

- Whether they had any training regarding the religion policy of the district. All witnesses testified that they had not received any specific training regarding this policy. * - Were asked to clarify whether they had to turn in lesson plans for the 2007/08 school year and whether they turned in lesson plans this school year. This was asked of the Middle School teachers only. All said that during the 2007/08 school year that they turned in lesson plans for only a short time (i.e. several weeks) and are required to turn in lesson plans this year.

- Were asked if they were able to teach beyond the Academic Standards for their grade level benchmarks and indicators.

Of more specific significance in these testimonies were:

1. Mrs. Malone’s admission that she, herself, had volunteered to touch the arc of the Tesla Coil

2. Mr. Marth’s presentation of a poster with the Ten Indian Commandments which had been subpoenaed for the hearing. He described the poster as being more philosophical than religious from his viewpoint.

There was specific discussion concerning an inscription written by Tim Keib, previous acting Principal, on the back of Mr. Sanders’ Colin Powell poster which read, “Thank you for ministering to MVMS students. You’ll never know how much I needed you this year.” Mr. Sanders testified that the year that Mrs. McDaniels left the district and Mr. Keib had to take over as interim principal had been a difficult year for both him and Mr. Keib. The inscription had been written by Mr. Keib at the end of the year and it was at that time that Sanders received this poster.

Mr. Wiles testified that Mr. Freshwater had asked him in 2006 to help him determine which website one of his handouts had come from. Mr. Wiles was never able to find the entire worksheet on any one website but found parts of what was on the worksheet given to him on two different websites, one was allaboutGod.com and the other one, I believe, is allaboutscience.com.

The second observer who helped me sent notes as they were typed up in a word processor from the handwritten notes taken in the hearing. I’m reproducing them here as they were sent to me, since they’re remarkably detailed. I did a little fooling around with the formatting to make subdivisions clearer though the outline indents of the original did not survive the move to Movable Type, and removed a few personal remarks, but that’s it. This writer often uses the initial “F” for Mr. Freshwater. MVCS means Mt. Vernon City Schools.

Tammy Henry

Direct Exam - Hamilton>

o English teacher w/MV since 2001

o Goes by Tammy

o Barb Spitzer, Kerry Mahan, Katie Beach, Brian Cook, Mindy Jones, John Freshwater, Tammy Henry - all on same 8th grade teaching team

o English class

§ She had them write a journal entry every day

§ Had to write a sentence about each class and what happened that day or the previous day

§ She gave the journals back to the students, so she has no copies

§ Journals never mentioned religious teachings, I.D., creationism

§ Kids would talk about personal things - biggest complaint she had was along political lines

§ She had two other students of F in class - they never mentioned tesla coil

§ She spent time with one of F’s students b/c he was a neighbor - he never mentioned tesla coil

§ She saw Zach Dennis every day 1st period in Ms. Spitzer’s class b/c Zach would always help…he was very helpful. It was like having another mini teacher in there. She spoke with him every once in a while, but not about personal things. - Zach never told her about tesla coil

§ No student ever mentioned tesla coil

§ It hurt her feelings that no kids told her about the coil…like she wasn’t approachable or something.

§ Freshwater was very popular with his students

o She spoke with John Freshwater about “her thoughts” and Freshwater told her to email her thoughts to Hamilton

§ Says “I have some important information that may help John’s case”

§ She was really angry about the field trip stuff she “read in the paper”.

§ She thinks b/c her journals didn’t have stuff about what happened in Freshwater’s class it just didn’t happen.

§ She spoke with John Freshwater about “her thoughts” and Freshwater told her to email her thoughts to Hamilton July 17, 2008

§ Says “I have some important information that may help John’s case”

§ She was really angry about the field trip stuff she “read in the paper”

§ She’s upset Riley and Ben did not tell her these things

§ Her letter also says “I wonder why investigator never interviewed any of John’s teaching team.”

§ She said to R Kelly “I would like to talk to you about these things and more”

§ They talked at a school board meeting

o Other things in paper she wants to address:

§ The “tesla coil” business. She is saying her students got to touch the generator at COSI. Kids “love that” she says. Um, that is a van de graff generator, and the electric output is totally different than a tesla coil.

§ It surprises her nobody wrote it

§ Suspicious about the investigator b/c the team was not interviewed.

§ She referred to the investigation as an “inquisition” b/c she thinks it was one sided

§ She says they [school? investigators?] are not scientific about the investigation, they have a goal in mind. Somebody in the seats says “Amen”

o Bringing up that she is shocked again that she did not hear somebody was injured. Implicitly, it seems she had to hear it happened or it didn’t happen.

o F Ex 17 - one of the allegations in the lawsuit is that Zach was placed in Freshwater’s field trip group. They [unclear who “they” are] tried to find out who the student was so they could make sure he wasn’t in the group, but Freshwater wouldn’t tell him [them?].

§ Mindy Jones and Tammy Henry scheduled the field trips.

§ F Ex 18 - groups for science trip to Cleveland. Freshwater’s group - they asked him if the group was OK. Zach Dennis was not in Freshwater’s group.

Cross Exam - Millstone

o She did not have Zach for language arts

o She never co-taught with Freshwater

o Never taught in Freshwater’s classroom

o She did not use tesla coil when she taught 6th grade science at Big Walnut

o COSI - has no idea the name of the generator there. She doesn’t know what a van de graff generator is.

o Field trip - no one ever complained to her - she read it in the paper. She has no direct knowledge of who made the complaint.

Re-Direct - Hamilton

o Taught 6th grade for Big Walnut up until 1992

Brian Cook

* Direct Exam - Hamilton

o History teacher, in his 34th year, all w/ MV

o Part of Freshwater’s team

o Her son had Jeff George

o He tries to show both sides of political spectrum

+ He’ll say stuff like “intolerance of people of other races is intolerable”

+ He did not tell the students who he supported for President

o Bibles in MV

+ He saw it in Freshwater’s class

o Colin Powell poster

+ Saw it in Keib or Jenkins’ office

o He would agree that he and John are as different as oil and water

o Zach Dennis

+ Was a student of his last year

+ Never reported problems with Freshwater

Cross Exam - Millstone None.

James K. Marth

Direct Exam - Hamilton

o Teaches at MVMS, left HS b/c he has philosophical differences with high school.

o Poster in his class - he brought it in - “The Ten Indian Commandments”

o Kids have asked him in the hallways if he goes to church or if he believes in God

o Never told to take the poster down

o Ben Sanders took some things from his room - before the OAT test - took down things he thought could be an aid to a student in Math on the test

o Bibles on desks - students brought them in. Freshwater had it on his desk.

o Tesla coil - saw it used by Jeff George

+ He ionized gases with it

+ He didn’t touch any students with it

+ He didn’t touch himself with it

o Ate lunches with Freshwater a lot

o Would not agree allowed wide latitude to bring things in - if things are of questionable nature, get approval first

o Zach Dennis - does not know him.

o Jordan Freshwater - was in his Algebra I class last year - she is an honest person

Cross Exam - Millstone

o He has a sign of the Ten Commandments of Mathematics

o A student in Freshwater’s science class came to Marth and asked him about I.D.

Sarah Malone

Direct - Hamilton

o 7th grade history teacher - been in MVCS 5 years ago

o She had a daughter in FCA

o Never spoke to HR On Call investigator

o MV policy on religion - she doesn’t know about it.

o Got no training on policies

o She teaches about all religions in class - part of her standards

o Kids ask her every year, how do you know which religion is true - she tells them it’s a personal choice

o Bibles on desks - She has one, Lori Miller, John Freshwater

o Religious items in classrooms - Lori Miller has taken some things down

o Colin Powell poster - she has seen it.

o Tesla coil - she had it tried on her last year. She was across the hall from Freshwater. Did this in between class breaks. Felt like a little shock. No mark left. He did it very quick, a second.

o Her daughter never complained about Freshwater. She was only in his class a little bit, b/c she had Elle Button

o Never attended FCA meetings

o She showed movie “Obsession” in class (Christianity and Crusades and Islam). Never got approval for it.

Cross - Millstone None

John Frye

Direct Exam - Hamilton

o MVCS - 22 or 23 years

o He is dean of students/head teacher at high school

o His daughter was in 8th grade last year - did not have Freshwater

o Policy on religion in classroom - never trained on it

o Bibles on desks - seen them in cabinets and on bookshelves - Mr. Guess and Mr. Ryan

o Lesson plans - need administrators to review to make sure standards are followed

o Tesla coil - no knowledge

o His daughter had Freshwater in FCA - did not complain

o Bonnie Schute allegation re getting retaught - he does not know of this

Cross Exam - Millstone

o When freshmen classes come in, they reteach all the kids

Brian Gastin

Direct Exam - Hamilton

o 25th year as HS English teacher

o Helped bring FCA to high school

+ Never received training

o Mr F encourages free thinking

o His daughter Anna had F, felt comfortable

o Classroom items he brought in - his bible and a plaque

+ He used to have the Colin Powell poster too. He took it down eventually b/c it was old. When it first came out he saw several posted in the school. It was out in the main hallway on a bulletin board - after the 9/11 attacks when the poster came out.

# Kathy Kasler saw this and told him to take the bible verse off and leave the picture if he wanted, so he took it down. - this conversation was one or two months ago. She asked if he has a bible, he said yes it’s on my desk, she said OK.

+ His bible says “HOLY BIBLE” in gold and it is on his desk or underneath - sometimes out when the students are there

+ He references the bible during English lessons. “they loved with the love that was more than the love” (Edgar Allen Poe). Why use love so much? He would reference how the bible language was more specific.

+ The plaque - it’s a tree trunk with a painting of Jesus on it knocking on the door (it’s a metaphor that he’s knocking on the man’s heart). Keeps it in his classroom, not on the wall, puts it down next to his desk. You’d have to really look for it, it’s on the floor next to him. His administrators have not seen it.

o He’s never been taught on religion in classroom.

o He has prayed with kids (just lowered his head and listened) - during football season. It was student-led.

o Students would ask about Good Friday and Easter - they would ask why is it spring break not Easter break. He would say when he grew up it was to celebrate Easter, but there were people who didn’t believe how he did.

o Bibles in classrooms - Mr. Dean, has seen 4 or 5 with them

o Coaches office - they had scripture poster up on wall.

o Cory - his oldest son, said the tesla coil was used on him, and it tickled

Cross Exam - Millstone

o Kathy Kasler [high school Principal] - he didn’t tell her about the plaque b/c it’s not displayed.

o His oldest son is at NAZ [Mt. Vernon Nazarene University]

Ben Sanders

Direct - Hamilton

o Guidance counselor at MVMS

o Had a daughter in F’s class 4 years ago - no complaints

o Daughter was in FCA

o Never spoke with HR On Call investigator

o Policy on religion in classroom - doesn’t know it off top of head, but basically that they don’t promote one religion over another

o Bibles on desks - Freshwater, Lori Miller

o Religious items displayed - posters in halls, windows. (the state motto [With God All Things Are Possible]). The Colin Powell poster also. A cross was in his office for a while (wooden). He knows there are some, but can’t say specifically. He has seen pictures of angel or saint, crosses, etc. - didn’t really think about it

o Colin Powell poster - it was in his office on the back of the door - so you would see it if you closed the door.

o Back of poster says ‘thanks for ministering to the students, you mean so much, Thanks, Tim’

+ F Ex 19 - the back of the poster note.

+ The Tim is Tim Keib, who is the assistant principal Mr. Sanders’ first year

+ Was a stressful year b/c a counselor (Sally Jenkins) and principal left

+ Keib gave the poster to Sanders

o His cross says “Blessed is the man who Trusts in the Lord, Jeremiah 17:7” - he kept this cross on his desk. He took it off his desk when asked to remove it by assistant principal Ritchey. - was asked to remove it beginning of this year. Ritchey said “we might need to ask you to remove this at some point.” And then later he was asked to remove it. Ritchey also asked that Colin Powell poster come down.

o His office is just down hall from principal, length of this room. Mr. White would come in his room often. White never said anything about the cross or Colin Powell poster.

o He wondered why it wasn’t a problem before - it is understood, because of “everything that is going on now” he guesses they had to do it

o Andrew Thompson - doesn’t know if he has things in his office, or Wes Ellefritz

o He heard that administrators started inspecting rooms this year.

o Jim Marth - Sanders when [went?] in and took stuff down in his room for OAT tests so nothing was up that could potentially give an answer on the test.

o Tesla coil - no knowledge

o Poster and cross - poster up b/c it was from Tim, and he was a good friend and believes in the scripture and it’s good to see our leaders have faith

o Cross was given to him by a friend.

Cross - Millstone

o Never saw F teach

o Keib interviewed for principal position and was not selected

Steven Farmer

Direct Exam - Hamilton

o Teaches 10th grade science now

o Taught 8th grade science for 4 years at MVMS

o Creates power points for his classes - gets them from web searches - lesson plan websites - would do this for topics covered by textbook

o Tesla coil - he used it

+ Used it in electricity chapter to light up gases and transfer of electrons

+ He has touched himself with it - maybe 20 times, no marks. The arc itself hurts. He’s never let it touch him for more than a second or so.

+ He has let students come up and touch it - second or less - never any injury

+ Did not get instructions on how to use it. Did not talk to F about it.

+ Zach [cross on arm] photos - hasn’t seen any marks left by tesla coil like this

o Graduated MVCS in 1993. He had Jeff George for 8th grade science. Recalls tesla coil, but not being used on students.

o Religion in classroom - assumes taught outside classroom. Did not get training on this.

o Bibles on desks - not aware of any

o Religious items in classrooms - just state mottos.

o Colin Powell poster - he has one at his house. He got it at church. Has not seen it at school.

o Koontz [former Principal or assistant Principal?] was in his class once during an electrical experiment - so he probably knew this was going on.

Cross Exam - Millstone

o Never used the tesla coil on arms

o Electricity can cause burns

Ken Wiles

Direct Exam - Hamilton

o Computer Resource Teacher at MVMS - 7th year

o Was asked by F to participate in computer research

+ A parent said F had gotten a document from a web site, and he wanted Wiles to see if it was on the internet, b/c he didn’t think he got it there

+ 2006 - he couldn’t find it on the internet

+ F was not tech savvy

+ Website he went to was allaboutgod.com

+ He found similar content, but not the exact document

Cross Exam - Millstone

o Turnitin.com - he has not used it

o When he did the google search he saw it went to the website “allaboutscience.com” and Wiles noticed that that was linked to allaboutgod ministries

o Did not look for cached material

David Carter

Direct - Hamilton

o Guidance counselor at HS

o Had Colin Powell poster up for 5 or 6 years. Took down today to bring it in. Was on wall behind him.

o Religion in classroom - his understanding is that it should be religion neutral. Received no training on this. Does not know where board policies are. He thinks they get policy booklet at beginning of year

o He has five kids, at least one has had John Freshwater’s class - no complaints

o Kids were involved in FCA - no complaints

o Bibles on desks - hasn’t noticed

o Tesla coil - kids never talked about it

Cross - Millstone

o Bible verse is not on his poster.

Donald Newcomer

Direct Exam - Hamilton

o Math teacher for 31 years

o Taught 6th grade science, also

+ Used tesla coil, would discharge it on chalkboard

+ Would let kids touch it on their finger

+ Probably let 100 students touch it

+ Probably touched it on himself a couple dozen times

+ Others who use it - Oxenford, D’Etorre

o Both his daughters had Freshwater (they’re 22 and 25) - didn’t complain

Cross Exam - Millstone

o Learned of Oxenford’s use of tesla coil when he asked Oxenford this winter

o Never used it on a student’s arm

Scott Dapprich

Direct Exam - Hamilton

o 8 years, teaches phys ed and health in HS

o Was a student in MVCS - did not have Freshwater

o No knowledge of tesla coil

o Has office as soccer coach

o F Ex 20 - email. 09/29/2008 - Kasler to him. Says please see me regarding my tour of the building

+ F Ex 21 - copy of what was taken down - “I am the Alpha and the Omega, Revelations 1:8” and “Lord, help me to dedicate all that I do to you, Proverbs 16:3”

+ He had those hanging up since 2001. He was mad when taken down, he felt like it was his personal space being invaded.

+ Kids could see them if they were in his office. He shares it with Gray, the other PE teacher. Students go back there to change for PE, but in the locker room, not his office.

o Policy on religion in classroom - it’s not part of the standards. Spiritual health is one thing he talks about in health class - ethical decisions. It is in the standards.

o Zach Dennis - he coaches him on soccer team. Has spoken with Zach’s mother.

+ First communication w/ Mrs. Dennis was on open field night. She went up to him and said “how do you communicate? What’s your communication like?” He was taken aback. He took it that she was complaining to him about how he communicates to students. Zach was not given a call on the phone list. Her demeanor was rash.

+ In communications since then her demeanor was “fine.”

+ He says he gave the info to Zach Dennis on 5 occasions in handouts. They also had a parents meeting.

o Bibles on desks - Brian Gastin, his own office,

o Religious items - Mr. Gastin’s room (fervent prayer of Bush/Colin Powell on refrigerator), Mr. Dean’s room (pictures his kids have drawn w/ bible verses), Mr. Carter’s office (Colin Powell poster), Mrs. Smith’s cart she pulls from room to room (bible verse)

Cross Exam - Millstone

o Mrs. Dennis conversation - it was at the Nazarene field, and it had been changed from the original schedule

+ One of the students on the chain didn’t make 6 phone calls, so Zach Dennis didn’t get the phone call

+ That was Mrs. Dennis’ concern

o Sometimes has players meet with him in his office

One of my correspondents also added this note:

Almost every witness today either shook John’s hand as they were leaving (even the Dispatch noticed this) or winked at Rep. Collier as they were leaving the testimony. I was sitting [near] Collier and it was evident they were doing this. You couldn’t miss the wink!

“Colllier” is Thom Collier, a former conservative state representative from the local Ohio House district who was recently term-limited out of office. He has been present for (nearly? - I’m not sure if he missed a day or two) all the hearing, and is listed as one of Freshwater’s supporters on the Bible on the Desk site, the so-called “Council for Free Expression.”

To round out the coverage I’ll quote a segment of the Mt. Vernon News story to give you another view of one witness’ testimony:

Tammy Henry, an eighth-grade English teacher on Freshwater’s teaching team, said she had students make daily entries in their journals about each class they had the previous day. Henry said none of those entries contained any complaints about Freshwater or comments on discussions in his class about religion, intelligent design or creationism. She said she was confident that students felt comfortable enough with her to write of concerns they might have had, because, she said, “They’d talk to me about Freshwater, who was very popular with them, and also wrote about it [Freshwater’s class].”

Henry told Freshwater’s attorney, Kelly Hamilton, that she was upset that no one on Freshwater’s teaching team had been interviewed by the investigators with HR on Call, and was “disappointed” that no one talked to her about allegations published in the News. She expressed shock at what was printed.

Henry said she was very suspicious about the investigator because the team worked closely with Freshwater and saw his worksheets, lesson plans and other instructional materials, and team members were not interviewed. In Henry’s opinion, the investigation was “an inquisition.”

“A subjective, one-sided investigation. … They had a goal in mind,” she said.

And about the same witness from the Columbus Dispatch story:

Students never complained about eighth-grade science teacher John Freshwater or what he was teaching, several Mount Vernon Middle School teachers testified today.

The teachers said they also heard no complaints from Zachary Dennis, whose parents have sued the district and Freshwater. The family says Freshwater burned a cross shape on the boy’s forearm last year with an electrical instrument used to test gases in a laboratory.

The school board has said it intends to fire Freshwater. But state law gives the teacher a hearing before that can happen. Today’s testimony came from teachers called by Freshwater’s attorney. Each shook Freshwater’s hand as he or she left the hearing.

Each of the 12 teachers and staff members also testified that the district gave them no instruction on school policies about teaching religious or controversial subjects.

Tammy Henry, an English teacher since 2001, encouraged her students to write personal observations in a diary they were required to keep in her eighth-grade English class.

The students described difficult teachers, personal problems and classroom politics. But last year, none ever mentioned Freshwater.

“It really shocked me,” Henry said. “They would discuss other things with me.”

After hearing accounts of the accusations against Freshwater, Henry e-mailed her principal, Bill White, and Freshwater’s attorney, R. Kelly Hamilton, in July.

I’m vividly reminded of the stress in the community that Lauri Lebo described in The Devil in Dover. These are potentially destructive issues both for public education and for the larger community.

The hearing is now in recess until February 20. There are three days scheduled in February and three in late March. I thank both of my correspondents, and the checks are in the mail!

28 Comments

Just a little note for anyone thinking this is a superfluous and time-wasting battle: it wasn’t until I was reading these entries on this blog that I learned that the YEC claim that coal formed after the eruption of Mt. St. Helens was false.

I was taught at an entirely Christian school until eighth grade. Public high school did its best, but just didn’t know how much misinformation it had to cover. I didn’t have to take another biology class until college, when you can probably imagine how much unlearning I had to do.

This is not a waste of time and money.

It seems to me that the strategy the defense is pushing is to equate “teaching religion” with LITERALLY teaching religion via religious reading.

The fact that you can push a religious agenda (Creationism) in class without ever actually reading the bible seems completely lost on them, or at least they are wisely not bringing it up.

My question is – why isn’t the prosecution drilling that issue?

sharky Wrote:

Public high school did its best, but just didn’t know how much misinformation it had to cover. I didn’t have to take another biology class until college, when you can probably imagine how much unlearning I had to do.

You may be new to this “debate” but your comment gets right to the heart of the matter.

Above and beyond the legal issues, this is not about the “fairness” to teach alternative “theories.” If it were that simple, I’d be all for it - even if the alternative theories were obsolete (“Phlogiston” comes to mind). But it’s all about systematic misrepresentation of evolution, and an exploitation of the fact that most students either learn a caricature of evolution, or soon replace whatever accurate material they learn with a caricature that has infested “pop culture” (e.g. “evolution means we come from monkeys”). The time it would take to unlearn all the misinformation that anti-evolution activists would teach practically guarantees that most students would take the activists’ cool anti-evolution sound bites as the last word.

You may have seen this already, but there are hundreds of YEC, OEC and ID claims that have been repeatedly refuted. What has been the anti-evolution activists’ reaction over the decades? Hard-line YECs and OECs eventually admit that the Bible overrules the evidence that has been obviously taken out of context. But a growing number simply and quietly abandon the positive claims of “what happened when” and concentrate on negative claims about evolution, and let students infer the rest. It’s still misinformation, but it requires more time and effort to debunk to most students.

Freshwater is one of those who hasn’t received the “memo” (don’t ask, don’t tell the designer’s identity, or what he/she/it did, when or how). So for every one like him, there are probably more “under the radar”.

Aaron Wrote:

The fact that you can push a religious agenda (Creationism) in class without ever actually reading the bible seems completely lost on them, or at least they are wisely not bringing it up.

I’m not a lawyer, but AIUI, one needs only to show evidence of a religious motivation. With the Bible, it’s easy. It’s trickier in the case of “don’t ask, don’t tell” ID (you might recall Michael Behe admitting that reading the Bible as a science text is “silly”), but it was done at Dover. If the purpose of the hearing were to show Freshwater that he didn’t need to be so obvious, I guess it would have been brought up by now.

If it weren’t for the Tesla Coil thing, I’d actually feel sorry for Freshwater. But I still would not want him teaching science - anywhere, not even in Sunday School.

I find this interesting. This is the same teacher: She further testified that she was certain that if Zach Dennis had been burnt by the Tesla Coil that he would have definitely told her about it.

Yet on cross she says: o She did not have Zach for language arts

Why is she so certain a kid would tell her something when he wasn’t even her student?

This guy obviously broke the law. He obviously knew that what he was doing was wrong. He obviously tried to cover it up, especially when he came under scrutiny. The other students and teachers obviously also knew that what he was doing was wrong. They also tried to help him cover it up. They are obviously now lying to try to save their friend from justice.

Why don’t any of these people have the courage to admit that what they did was wrong and accept the consequences? Why aren’t any of them trying to claim that what they did should not be considered wrong? Why are they all such cowards? Don’t they have any faith that God wll protect them? Don’t they believe that they will get their reward in heaven?

Why is it so important that they save this particular teacher from justice when it is obvious that the students are never going to get a good science education there anyway? Why not just hang this guy out to dry in order to draw attention away from the fact that many of the other teachers are doing exactly the same thing? I guess lying for Jesus has just gotten to be a lifestyle for these people.

I honestly don’t see anything in the case for the defense that is goiing to help this guy. If he isn’t fired it will be an even bigger crime that what he has already committed.

Aaron said:

It seems to me that the strategy the defense is pushing is to equate “teaching religion” with LITERALLY teaching religion via religious reading.

The fact that you can push a religious agenda (Creationism) in class without ever actually reading the bible seems completely lost on them, or at least they are wisely not bringing it up.

My question is – why isn’t the prosecution drilling that issue?

“Prosecution” isn’t the right term. This is not a court case, it is an administrative hearing to arrive at a recommendation for the BOE regarding its resolution to terminate Freshwater’s employment as a science teacher. The Board of Education put on its case for sustaining the termination decision the first 11 days of the hearing, and now Freshwater is putting on his case. At the end the hearing referee will write a recommendation to the BOE, which can accept or reject the recommendation.

But I agree that the claim that a passive religious display somehow doesn’t violate the Establishment Clause is bizarre, but not unheard of according to one First Amendment specialist I’ve consulted. None have been successfully argued, but that doesn’t stop them from attempting the argument. After all, these are the same guys that are making arguments about the science that have been refuted countless times.

I have no doubt the ‘passive display’ issue will be raised later – right now we have to hear Freshwater’s case before an informed refutation can be made.

/delurking

Hope the water leak wasn’t too awful, Mr. Hoppe. I just wanted to say thanks for your posts on this hearing- I can only imagine how much of your time you’ve given us. There may not be many less-familiar faces commenting on these posts, but there’s more people reading them than you might think. Your efforts are appreciated.

/relurking

Can someone please give me a link to the Bush/Powell poster or give me the exact wording of the Bible verse on the poster?

Thanks.

All in all, it seems to me that the twelve(!) witnesses did little to advance Freshwater’s case.

I can see that Hamilton will try to argue that the system does not adequately train the faculty in the policies, but considering that it says nothing to diminish Freshwater’s insubordination when directly told to remove the religious matter from his classroom, I doubt it will really help.

The actions of the witnesses showing they support Freshwater, is neither here nor there–if anything, it might suggest to the arbiter collusion.

Bottom line to me is that Hamilton really has done little if anything to rebut the school system’s case for firing.

sharky said:

Just a little note for anyone thinking this is a superfluous and time-wasting battle: it wasn’t until I was reading these entries on this blog that I learned that the YEC claim that coal formed after the eruption of Mt. St. Helens was false.

I was taught at an entirely Christian school until eighth grade. Public high school did its best, but just didn’t know how much misinformation it had to cover. I didn’t have to take another biology class until college, when you can probably imagine how much unlearning I had to do.

This is not a waste of time and money.

Hey Sharky or anyone, can you give me some particulars about this coal teaching? I saw a reference to it once before somewhere but I had no idea it was something actually taught in schools. What do they say exactly? What happened on Mt. St. Helens to start the story? Is it taught in many places?

Toni said:

Can someone please give me a link to the Bush/Powell poster or give me the exact wording of the Bible verse on the poster?

Thanks.

James 5:16: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

Pete Dunkelberg said:

sharky said:

Just a little note for anyone thinking this is a superfluous and time-wasting battle: it wasn’t until I was reading these entries on this blog that I learned that the YEC claim that coal formed after the eruption of Mt. St. Helens was false.

I was taught at an entirely Christian school until eighth grade. Public high school did its best, but just didn’t know how much misinformation it had to cover. I didn’t have to take another biology class until college, when you can probably imagine how much unlearning I had to do.

This is not a waste of time and money.

Hey Sharky or anyone, can you give me some particulars about this coal teaching? I saw a reference to it once before somewhere but I had no idea it was something actually taught in schools. What do they say exactly? What happened on Mt. St. Helens to start the story? Is it taught in many places?

You can start here: http://www.answersingenesis.org/cre[…]sthelens.asp

You can start here: http://www.answersingenesis.org/cre[…]sthelens.asp

Ahhh, yet again with AIG’s extensive mastery of all things geophysical, especially as exemplified by the ol’ chestnut.…

“Most people are still unaware that much of the water for Noah’s flood came from inside the earth. Genesis records that the fountains of the deep broke open.”

Which conveniently ignores the hydrostatic principal that you can’t flood the world with water sprouting from underground caverns because you’d eventually have to backfill the now-empty mountains.

The “Mount St. Helens coal formation” (as “evidence” of a young earth), and Aaron’s question of why it was not (yet) brought up that the Bible was not even necessary to teach creationism, taken together, bring up some interesting points.

The hearing is long enough without having to mention other “kinds” of creationism. And mentioning them is are apparently not necessary to make the case.

Nevertheless, I think it’s crucial in the long run that the public understands how many mutually-contradictory ways evolution is “refuted.” Speaking of coal, Ed Conrad, or one of his sock puppets, is back on Talk.Origins peddling his “man-as-old-as-coal” argument. Like most savvy turn-of-the-millennium creationists, Ed does not volunteer how old coal is, but when pressed he admits 280 million years. That’s not only in direct conflict with YEC, but even with OEC, which states that man, if not coal, originated much more recently. Then there’s the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ID, which neither relies on the Bible for evidence nor claim that the evidence independently confirm it.

Nearly everyone past middle school age has an opinion on evolution and any alternative if they prefer it. But very few people realize how many irreconcilable differences there are under the big tent, and how some groups are hell-bent on covering them up. The same groups who produce such garbage that pretends that scientists and teachers who doubt “Darwinism” are “expelled” and that “Darwinism” is associated with Nazism.

mary said:

Toni said:

Can someone please give me a link to the Bush/Powell poster or give me the exact wording of the Bible verse on the poster?

Thanks.

James 5:16: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

Well, then that lets Bush out.

(Written on the last day of the Bush-Cheney Imperium.)

It seems like religiosity is RAMPANT at this school. Has something changed since I was in high school (1980-1984)? I went through a rural northern New York State public high school system, and I don’t recall EVER ONCE hearing about god or Jesus in school, seeing any religious iconography, bibles, bible verses, or any of this other horse-hockey. Have the religious culture warriors amped things up since the 1980’s, or was I just in a particularly secularized district? Or maybe NYS state standards are crystal clear on the exclusion clause vis-a-vis schools? My teachers never discussed religion outside of the one social studies class where we learned about world religions (I remember thinking I would make a poor Hindu).

Mike in Ontario, NY said:

It seems like religiosity is RAMPANT at this school. Has something changed since I was in high school (1980-1984)? I went through a rural northern New York State public high school system, and I don’t recall EVER ONCE hearing about god or Jesus in school, seeing any religious iconography, bibles, bible verses, or any of this other horse-hockey. Have the religious culture warriors amped things up since the 1980’s, or was I just in a particularly secularized district? Or maybe NYS state standards are crystal clear on the exclusion clause vis-a-vis schools? My teachers never discussed religion outside of the one social studies class where we learned about world religions (I remember thinking I would make a poor Hindu).

It might seem that “religiosity is rampant” but that really isn’t the case. The microscopic lense that this case is receiving gives a very misleading representation of the Mount Vernon community and schools.

I did not have these things going on when I was in school.(late eighties) I never learned to doubt evolution. I do not recall ever hearing about religion, except at church. The whole “code word” he taught is disturbing to me.

Mike in Ontario writes… Has something changed since I was in high school (1980-1984)? I went through a rural northern New York State public high school system, and I don’t recall EVER ONCE hearing about god or Jesus in school, seeing any religious iconography, bibles, bible verses, or any of this other horse-hockey.

Heck, I went through high school in the early 80’s in central Pennsylvania, about 70 miles north of Dover, and other than the odd prayer before the football game (which often took on a decidedly secular “Lord, help these boys play well and not get hurt” tone) I would have been hard pressed to find any evangelizing at all in our school.

Our bio teacher, one John Lepley, was both very good and very motivated.

(Our physics teacher, on the other hand, sucked).

Ironically, I went on to go to Lehigh University, at the time mostly an engineering school, now notably the home of one Michael Behe of flagellum fame.

IIRC, there was precious little evangalizing there either.

… on the other hand, there was lots of drinking, and maybe I just didn’t notice.

RS said:

Mike in Ontario, NY said:

It seems like religiosity is RAMPANT at this school. Has something changed since I was in high school (1980-1984)? I went through a rural northern New York State public high school system, and I don’t recall EVER ONCE hearing about god or Jesus in school, seeing any religious iconography, bibles, bible verses, or any of this other horse-hockey. Have the religious culture warriors amped things up since the 1980’s, or was I just in a particularly secularized district? Or maybe NYS state standards are crystal clear on the exclusion clause vis-a-vis schools? My teachers never discussed religion outside of the one social studies class where we learned about world religions (I remember thinking I would make a poor Hindu).

It might seem that “religiosity is rampant” but that really isn’t the case. The microscopic lense that this case is receiving gives a very misleading representation of the Mount Vernon community and schools.

To be blunt, I’m not so sure it’s misleading. Read my account of Gino D’Ettorre’s testimony last week. He was praying in school with students for their salvation. Doesn’t get much more evangelical than that. And an assistant principal signed a poster to another teacher “Thanks for your ministry …”. And what proportion of the faculty in the Mt. Vernon District is straight out of the Nazarene University? A non-trivial percentage, methinks.

And consider the “community.” We’ve got a church on every corner, a district headquarters (and elementary school) of the Seventh Day Adventists, and until about 10 years ago had a seminary of the Church of the Four Square Gospel just southwest of the city. Were it not for Kenyon and a few independent freethinkers in Mt. Vernon this county would be wall-to-wall conservative Christians.

RBH

I went through a rural northern New York State public high school system, and I don’t recall EVER ONCE hearing about god or Jesus in school, seeing any religious iconography, bibles, bible verses, or any of this other horse-hockey.

Same in my schools on the west coast. AFAIK, it is still that way.

From the testimony of the other teachers, it seems the whole school is saturated with fundie xian teachers.

Local control of school districts means that there’s a wide variety of experiences, from utterly secular (other than the YoungLife chapter and the baccalaureate, which I skipped, there wasn’t a single mention of God in my high school outside of history classes while teaching, say, the Reformation) to positively soaked in Evangelical Christianity.

I imagine that you’d find that more fundamentalist teachers in the Mount Vernon school district stayed there because of the environment, either out of a feeling of comfort and familiarity or out of a desire to get away with pulling the kind of crap John Freshwater did. Either way, I would guess that there’s a kind of ‘critical mass’ before any proselytization can happen for any length of time. Even in Mount Vernon, it seems like only one teacher really overstepped his boundaries, while the rest (and the administration) provided aid and comfort only by permitting it to continue.

There seem to be an awful lot of “almosts” out there - while we hear about ones like Tangipahoa, Mount Vernon, Dover,there are almost certainly many more that we don’t hear about - where something like a science teacher torching a cross into an eighth-grader’s skin could happen, but doesn’t, either because the environment isn’t there or the nutbar teacher isn’t there.

Freshwater’s defense, which seems to consist at least partly of “They shouldn’t have let me get away with it for as long as they did”, strikes me as accurate on that point. Why it should be cause for exoneration is beyond me, but I’m not a lawyer specializing in wrongful termination hearings (or whatever this hearing is). Perhaps it isn’t cause for exoneration so much as a means to draw out his public “martyrdom” for as long as possible.

stevaroni said:

Heck, I went through high school in the early 80’s in central Pennsylvania, about 70 miles north of Dover, and other than the odd prayer before the football game (which often took on a decidedly secular “Lord, help these boys play well and not get hurt” tone) I would have been hard pressed to find any evangelizing at all in our school.

Our bio teacher, one John Lepley, was both very good and very motivated.

(Our physics teacher, on the other hand, sucked).

Rural Cali for me. 1985-89. No evangelizing. There was an FCA but they weren’t all that noisy. I was an athlete and barely noticed them. There were other small Christian groups, but none had the visibility or voice that high school groups have today. I currently reside in a rural area where the high school could be described as a private religious school without the good education.

Speaking of physics teachers, mine was a conservative xian. However, he did not proselytize in class, though I’m sure he was a creationist, and stuck to the physics pretty well. He did, however, vehemently proselytize against gun control – he lived way out in the sticks and needed his gun to shoot bears, if they attacked.

raven said:

I went through a rural northern New York State public high school system, and I don’t recall EVER ONCE hearing about god or Jesus in school, seeing any religious iconography, bibles, bible verses, or any of this other horse-hockey.

Same in my schools on the west coast. AFAIK, it is still that way.

From the testimony of the other teachers, it seems the whole school is saturated with fundie xian teachers.

I never even knew that there were people that still believed that “Creation” is “The Truth” until I moved to the south.

It blows my mind.

RBH said:

RS said:

Mike in Ontario, NY said:

It seems like religiosity is RAMPANT at this school. Has something changed since I was in high school (1980-1984)? I went through a rural northern New York State public high school system, and I don’t recall EVER ONCE hearing about god or Jesus in school, seeing any religious iconography, bibles, bible verses, or any of this other horse-hockey. Have the religious culture warriors amped things up since the 1980’s, or was I just in a particularly secularized district? Or maybe NYS state standards are crystal clear on the exclusion clause vis-a-vis schools? My teachers never discussed religion outside of the one social studies class where we learned about world religions (I remember thinking I would make a poor Hindu).

It might seem that “religiosity is rampant” but that really isn’t the case. The microscopic lense that this case is receiving gives a very misleading representation of the Mount Vernon community and schools.

To be blunt, I’m not so sure it’s misleading. Read my account of Gino D’Ettorre’s testimony last week. He was praying in school with students for their salvation. Doesn’t get much more evangelical than that. And an assistant principal signed a poster to another teacher “Thanks for your ministry …”. And what proportion of the faculty in the Mt. Vernon District is straight out of the Nazarene University? A non-trivial percentage, methinks.

And consider the “community.” We’ve got a church on every corner, a district headquarters (and elementary school) of the Seventh Day Adventists, and until about 10 years ago had a seminary of the Church of the Four Square Gospel just southwest of the city. Were it not for Kenyon and a few independent freethinkers in Mt. Vernon this county would be wall-to-wall conservative Christians.

RBH

I went to high school in one of the most conservative districts in the states in the mid-80s (regularly votes 85% Republican), raised in a conservative Christian household and I don’t recall any of this BS. I had never even heard of YEC nonsense until I was in my thirties.

Granted, I don’t really remember learning much about evolution in school, and although my memory is incredibly faulty, I would definitely remember any arguments against made by teachers. Growing up, I didn’t think it was necessarily wrong, just that it wasn’t necessarily settled science: like your average uninterested bystander, I bought the “missing link” myth. It took me until I was faced with this toxic anti-evolutionism that I took the time to grok the concept.

But on the general Bible pushing concept, I don’t remember seeing one Bible in school ever, nor Bible verses on the walls. There was a “moment of silence” in middle school, nothing in high school. We did sing religious Christmas carols in choir, but mostly secular, and that was all I saw of Christianity in school.

Mike in Ontario, NY said:

It seems like religiosity is RAMPANT at this school. Has something changed since I was in high school (1980-1984)?

I went to JHS in a religious school in Australia, HS in a rural-turning-suburban area in the U.S., and saw none of this behavior. Even in the religious school. Sure we got the ubiquituous bland prayers for various special events (sporting events, before holidays, etc…), but the teacher’s response to those was mostly eye-rolling. They certainly didn’t respond to the religious support by injecting religion into class.

I went to school in the Mount Vernon school district and I don’t remember much or anything *ever* being said one way or the other about religion. Okay, I remember reciting the Lord’s Prayer along with the Pledge of Allegiance in grade school, but that was before school prayer was banned and when it was probably pretty universal as just an anodyne good citizenship sort of thing. I had one of John Freshwater’s direct predecessors for Eighth Grade science; he had issues for other reasons, but I think he did honestly try to do right by his students and encourage them to learn science and think for themselves. He even lent me his science-fiction magazines when he was done reading them. and I certainly can’t think too unkindly of my old teacher for that. Since I haven’t lived in the town for several decades, I can’t say what changes there have been, but it’s startling to see the place where I grew up and remember well turn up in the national news.

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