On April 2, in the continuation of Freshwater’s case in chief (basically, his case to be retained), we heard three witnesses, Pastor Stephen Zirkle, middle school health teacher Wes Elifritz, and middle school teacher Andrew Thompson. Zirkle was the pastor at the center of the “healing ceremony” allegations, Wes Elifritz is a middle school health teacher and also coaches 8th grade girls basketball. He was among those named in prior testimony as having religious items on display. Thompson was an 8th grade student in Freshwater’s science class in 1998, was an intervention specialist who spent one class period per day in Freshwater’s class during the 2006-2007 academic year, and is now a social studies teacher in the middle school. He also displayed religious items in his classroom until he was recently instructed to remove them.
Stephen Zirkle Direct Examination
In direct examination by R. Kelly Hamilton, Freshwater’s attorney, Zirkle said he has been a speaker at Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings in both the high school and middle school. He estimated that he spoke once a month or so at each. He testified that he doesn’t socialize with Freshwater, but knows him from FCA and from their joint work on a youth committee in preparation for a Will Graham evangelical event held in Knox County in October, 2007.
Zirkle testified that he was contacted to speak at FCA by students, and that Freshwater’s main role was to keep track of time so the meetings ended on time and students could get to class (regular FCA meetings were during the lunch periods). During 2007-2008 he testified that Ben Neilson was usually the student who contacted him. He said Freshwater would call him to confirm the speaking date. Asked who led the meetings, Zirkle replied, “Me.” Asked who was the focus of the meetings, he replied, “Probably me.”
Zirkle testified that Freshwater’s usual position during FCA meetings was at the back of the band room where they were held, near a PA system. Asked if it was his impression that Freshwater was there to oversee, Zirkle agreed with that description. He testified that he never had the impression that Freshwater was trying to lead the meetings.
Zirkle was questioned about the March 18, 2008 FCA meeting at which a ‘healing ceremony’ was alleged to have occurred. Zirkle told the hearing that he used the Daniel in the lion’s den scripture that day because he was facing a personal problem and felt like that. He said he shared with the group that he had been to the doctor the day before, was “pretty scared,” and used the lesson to reinforce the message that when “facing trials and tribulations, to put your trust in God.” He said the lesson lasted approximately five minutes.
After the lesson, he testified that Ben Neilson approached. Zirkle said Ben said “he wanted to pray for me.” The students gathered in front of him, and he testified that Ruth Frady was behind him. He closed his eyes and bowed his head, and people put their hands on him. He could specifically remember Ben Neilson and Ruth Frady praying in a “popcorn prayer” manner where each person could pray as moved to do so. He couldn’t remember who else prayed nor how many hands were on him – “more than one” he agreed.
Asked about use of the word “Satan,” Zirkle testified that he thought perhaps Ruth Frady had used the word in the context of praying that Satan not discourage him. Asked where Freshwater was when he raised his head at the end of the prayers, Zirkle said, “not close to me when the prayer ended.” Asked if he would remember if Freshwater was close to him, he replied “Probably.”
Asked if the prayer session had the form of an exorcism, Zirkle replied that it did not.
Zirkle testified that no one from the school or the independent investigators had previously interviewed him about the allegations. He testified that though Dr. Margie Bennett, President of the Board of Education, is a member of his church she had not asked him about the matter. He thought the fact that no one had interviewed him was odd. He said “It [the prayer at FCA] just seems to have been blown way out of proportion, and I’ve been sitting here waiting to be asked any questions about it.”
Asked if he had spoken to Ben Neilson or Ruth Frady about it, he replied “Not in detail.” Asked if he had prayed with them, he said that he had. Asked why, he replied “Just for strength and encouragement. Protection.” Zirkle testified that he though both Ben Neilson and Ruth Frady are honest individuals.
Stephen Zirkle Cross Examination
First in cross David Millsone asked about the Will Graham youth committee. Zirkle testified that it was formed to engage students and encourage them to come to the Graham evangelical event.
Asked about it, Zirkle said he’d never been in Freshwater’s classroom.
With respect to the Mar 18, 2008 FCA prayer meeting, Zirkle testified that Ben Neilson had asked if he could pray and that Ben approached Zirkle. Asked if Freshwater had said something to the effect of “Let’s pray for him,” Zirkle couldn’t recall. Asked if it is possible Freshwater could have said “Do you want to pray for Pastor Zirkle,” he replied “Possible.”
Asked if Freshwater ended the prayer session, Zirkle couldn’t recall. Asked if it was Ruth Frady who said something to the effect of “God keep Satan from discouraging him,” Zirkle replied “Yes.” Asked if Freshwater hurried students off to class at the end of the prayer, Zirkle couldn’t recall.
That ended Zirkle’s testimony – there was no redirect or recross.
Wes Elifritz Direct Examination
Wes Elifritz is a health teacher in the Mt. Vernon middle school and coach of the 8th grade girls basketball team. He has been in the Mt. Vernon system for four years. For one semester in 2006 he was in Freshwater’s classroom one period per day teaching health. He testified that he previously met twice with R. Kelly Hamilton, Freshwater’s attorney, at Freshwater’s church, Trinity Assembly of God, for a total of approximately 75 minutes.
Elifritz testified that he had not been interviewed by the independent investigators, nor by anyone else other than Hamilton.
Asked whether he knew of Bibles on teachers’ desks in the middle school, Elifritz replied “Other than mine?” Asked about Freshwater’s, he agreed he had a Bible on his desk. Asked about the Bible on his own desk, Elilfritz testified that it was a small Gideon Bible, the New Testament plus Psalms.
Hamilton introduced a diagram of Elifritz’s room drawn previously by Elifritz. Elifritz identified the locations of various religious items. One, a set of lyrics from what had previously been described by Lori Miller as a “praise and worship song,” was formerly on a bulletin board, but he had moved it to the wall near his desk with other items last October (2008) on instructions from the administration. Later, early this week, on Monday March 30, he was instructed to remove his Bible. Asked if he knew of anyone else who had been instructed to remove their Bible from their desk, he replied “John” [Freshwater],” and also on March 30, Lori Miller.
He also testified that last week he was instructed to remove the religious items he had on the wall. Asked if the items he had displayed in his room were considered religious items, he replied “For me they are religious items.”
Hamilton walked Elifritz through a series of photographs of Ellifritz’s room taken by Lori Miller. Elifritz identified a poster with the Ten Commandments and advice on memorizing them; a Maya Angelou poem titled “Christians” (possibly this poem, though according to her Web site she denies writing it); and Psalms 37.
Elifritz testified that prior to the 2007-2008 school year he was in a different room and had a small office off the classroom where the materials were displayed. Last year he moved to his current room and put the materials on display in that classroom.
There was more testimony on what was moved when in his current classroom. Though Hamilton’s questioning was a bit confusing, the sequence seems to have been:
1. October, 2008: Elifritz was instructed to move the song lyrics to join the other material on the wall behind his desk.
2. On March 30, 2009, he was instructed to move all those materials out of sight, so he moved them to his “fridge” in the classroom.
3. Later that same day he was instructed that they “had to be totally gone,” so he put them in his desk.
Apparently (though as I noted, the questioning was confusing), Elifritz was first instructed to move stuff here or there, and then finally to get it out of sight. Asked what changed between instructions, Elifritz testified that Bill White, middle school principal, said it was a new interpretation. Asked if he knew what the difference is, Elifritz replied “No.” Asked if anyone else was instructed to remove materials this week, Elifritz said only Lori Miller’s Bible and the stone with a verse from Philippians she had on her desk.
Turning to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Hamilton asked whether Elifritz had met with White and Superintendent Short about it. He had. Asked, Elifritz testified that the meetings were an effort to not let the middle school FCA “drop by the wayside,” and that they (Elifritz, Miller, and Thompson) were seeking a way to take FCA out of the school day and still have students participate. (Recall that Lori Miller characterized the effort as being to enable teachers to take a participative role in FCA activities – praying, etc.)
Elifritz testified that White gave them the guidance material from FCA with parts highlighted, but no other written direction. He said the three have not pursued that matter.
Elifritz testified that after the permission slip policy for FCA was put into effect in late 2007, Freshwater enforced the policy by checking student attendees against a check in sheet. He testified that Freshwater enforced the permission slip rule by excluding students on 8 or 10 occasions. Students without permission to attend were given a permission slip form to take home and get permission from them to attend. Elifritz testified that he never heard Freshwater complain about the policy.
Asked if he would report anything unusual he saw in an FCA meeting, Elilfritz responded “It depends.” Asked if he had ever seen anything unusual, he said he had not.
Elifritz testified that he had never seen a video or movie at an FCA meeting. (Recall that it was claimed that the “Watchmaker” video was shown at FCA at Freshwater’s daughter’s suggestion rather than in Freshwater’s science class - see here and here.)
Asked about the school policy on ‘controversial issues,’ Elifritz doesn’t know it. Asked if he’d had any training on it, he couldn’t recall any. Similarly, he testified that he doesn’t know the Board’s policy on religion in the classroom nor what the Establishment Clause is. He testified that at the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year, before classes began, Principal White told the assembled staff to be careful of religion and to make sure religious items were out of students’ sight.
Asked about a teacher’s duty to report student injuries, Elifritz replied that they did have that duty, and that he would likely report it to superiors and document it. Asked about training, he testified that one receives that training via teacher education and it has been repeated verbally during professional development sessions.
Shown the pictures of Zachary’s arm, he testified that he saw them in the newspaper. He testified that if he were presented with the pictures he would ask whose arm and what happened, and would present the situation to the administration. If he encountered it in person and was told it occurred in school, he testified he would report it to the administration. If the parents showed him the pictures and told him they didn’t want to get the teacher in trouble, he said he would talk with the teacher.
Regarding the Academic Content Standards, Elifritz testified that teachers could teach beyond “aspects” of them if it “stayed within the framework of that class.” Asked about supplemental materials, Elifritz said he didn’t know; that his teaching health was based on national health standards. Asked if he agreed with [middle school science teacher] Chuck Adkins’ remark that teachers have wide latitude in the selection of supplemental materials, Elifritz replied “Yes, if they’re appropriate.”
Hamilton asked Elifritz if he ever used debate as a teaching technique. Elilfritz that he did. He would have a student write a “persuasive essay,” and then the students would debate the issue. He said that he invited all middle school staff to the debates, and some attended. He testified that Freshwater attended one debate, on contraception, and told an anecdote about his wife’s experience (she apparently works as a volunteer in a Christian pregnancy counseling service). He said pregnant teenagers tell her “Well, he used a condom,” apparently implying that condoms are an ineffective method of birth control. (That implication is my inference, not Elifritz’s.)
Asked about Freshwater’s work habits, Elifritiz testified that he had no direct knowledge, but that he had great rapport with students and that he’d hear students holler “I love science!” as they passed Freshwater’s classroom door. (Recall Freshwater’s telephone book deal with his students.)
One of the allegations in the investigator’s report that hasn’t received much attention is that after the Dennis family filed its federal law suit and Principal White had breached the family’s anonymity to Freshwater, Zachary Dennis was re-assigned to Freshwater’s group for a field trip. According to the complaint, the Dennis parents then withdrew Zach from the field trip.
Asked about that incident, Elifritz testified that he didn’t know how students were assigned to groups, but that he had Zachary in class when that field trip was scheduled and Zachary had told him his family would be on vacation during the time the field trip was scheduled.
Asked if Elilfritz saw Freshwater do anything wrong he would report it, Elifritz said ethically his conscience would require him to do so.
Wes Elifritz Cross Examination
David Millstone’s cross examination was short. Elifritz had made reference to students’ cognitive abilities in classes in direct examination, and Millstone asked how he knew about them. Elifritz responded that he was going by casual teacher conversations, and wasn’t in the relevant team last year.
Asked if, when asked by an administrator to do something, he did it, he replied “To the best of my ability.”
Andrew Thompson Direct Examination
Andrew Thompson is an 8th grade social studies teacher, and assistant varsity basketball coach. In 1998 he had Freshwater for 8th grade science. He did his student teaching at the middle school, and was originally hired as an intervention specialist assisting students on Individual Educational Plans (IEPs). IEP students have specific difficulties, and the job of an intervention specialist is to follow a small group of such students in their classes, assisting them with class and tutoring them with difficult tasks. In the course of a year as an intervention specialist Thompson spent one period per day in Freshwater’s class. Now he is a classroom teacher. Under Hamilton’s questioning, he estimated he has spent at least one period in Freshwater’s class on 360 school days, including his time as a student.
With respect to the Fellowship of Student Athletes, Thompson estimated that he attended roughly 138 total meetings in the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 academic years.
Asked by Hamilton, he said that he knew of no one with more experience with Freshwater in class or at FCA.
Thompson testified that he had not been interviewed by the independent investigators nor by David Millstone, attorney for the Board. He said he did have conversations with Superintendent Steve Short and Director of Teaching and Learning Linda Weston.
Asked about teachers with Bibles on their desks, Thompson named himself, Lori Miller, and Wes Elifritz. HE said another teacher whose name I didn’t catch used to have one on her desk, but removed it at the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year. Asked if he had ever seen a Bible on Freshwater’s desk Thompson said that he had.
Asked if Freshwater ever taught or preached from his Bible, Thompson said no.
Under questioning, Thompson said that he had spoken publicly in support of Freshwater at the August, 2008, Board of Education meeting, the same meeting at which Lori Miller had spoken (see here). He didn’t recall if he had told the Board he had a Bible on his desk.
Asked if he knew of teachers with displays of religious materials in their room, he said Wes Elifritz has material and the Chair of the Social Studies has several items – a Soldier’s Prayer and some other items. He said he interprets the Bush/Powell poster as being of the country’s leadership not necessarily with religious connections. He testified that he had seen the poster in Freshwater’s room, but didn’t recall the Bible verse on it. He testified that Mr. Sanders, a guidance counselor, also had that poster in his office. (Sanders is the counselor on whose poster Tim Keib, former assistant principal, had inscribed “Thanks for your ministering to MVMS students.”)
Thompson testified that in an August 2008 staff meeting before classes began, Principal White had said that he would like everyone to remove religious displays from their classrooms.
At a subsequent meeting about FCA with White, assistant principal Brad Ritchie, and Superintendent Short, Thompson asked what a religious display was. Thompson testifed that White said it is what an administrator felt was a religious display, and that he would get back to Thompson. Thompson said that no one ever got back to him about it. He testified that White said if anyone had a problem with it, they should file a grievance.
With regard to the Philippians stone on Lori Miller’s desk, Thompson testified that Miller asked White and assistant principal Brad Ritchie about it at that same meeting, He said White told her he would have to check into it.
In June 2008 Thompson had a meeting with Superintendent Short to go over what he, Thompson, felt were inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the investigator’s report. He had prepared notes for that meeting, and those notes formed the basis for a good deal of his direct examination, though they were never read out clearly enough for the gallery to get a clear picture of what all was in them. Some others also took notes in the hearing and they may have caught more. If so I’d appreciate hearing about it. The questioning was of the form: Hamilton: “Looking at item J, was that raised in your meeting with Superintendent Short?” And Thompson would answer, “Yes.” Hamilton: “What was Superintendent Short’s response?” Thompson: “He listened and took notes. He told me that he couldn’t say much at this stage of things.” This same general pattern recurred several times.
Thompson testified that immediately after the investigation report was made public in June of 2008, he began putting together the notes. Then he requested a meeting with Short to go over them. There were a number of what Thompson called “inconsistencies,” along with what can only be characterized as attempted character assassination of the Dennis family. (Recall that at that time the Dennis family was still anonymous.) Nevertheless, one of Thompson’s points was that Zachary Dennis’ grandfather is experienced in photography, with the insinuation the he might have faked the photos of Zachary’s arm. When asked later in cross examination how he knew the affected student was Zachary, Thompson claimed that his sister, a student at the middle school, had heard several boys talking about the marks the Tesla coil left and inferred that Zachary was the complainant. That, of course, would have had to have occurred 6 months before Thompson supposedly made his notes, during December 2007 after Zachary was marked. Thompson’s testimony in this respect (and several others) amounted to plain insinuations of fabrication on the part of three generations of the Dennis family.
Under Hamilton’s questioning, Thompson explained what the signal “here” meant. He said in the scientific method there are theories and hypotheses, and that the use of “here” was to distinguish between hypotheses and facts. If students thought something wasn’t a fact they were to say “here.” Thompson testified that it was used in 1998 when he was in Freshwater’s class. He said it was intended to get students to understand the scientific method, and he thought it was a good thing. He said it increased student attention to material they were learning. Asked if he explained that to Short, he said not in detail. (See below in cross examination for what Thompson thinks facts, hypotheses, and theories are.)
Asked about Freshwater’s role in FCA meetings, Thompson said it was to help facilitate – make sure the room was available, etc. – and monitor the meetings to ensure that students didn’t get out of hand. Asked about the permission slip policy, Thompson testified that students took attendance at meetings, and that Freshwater defended the requirement for permission slips.
Thompson testified that students contacted speakers using Freshwater’s classroom phone, did attendance at meetings, and kept the speaker calendar. He said Freshwater never talked much in FCA meetings. He said Freshwater’s behavior at FCA meetings was the same in 1998 when Thompson was a student as in 2006-2008 when he was an intervention specialist and a teacher.
Hamilton asked about a visit to the FCA by several Ohio State University football players under the auspices of Campus Crusade for Christ. Thompson testified that Joel Penton gave what Thompson described as a “salvation message” about Christian faith and what it means to be saved. He encouraged students to commit to Christ. Asked if any did, Thompson replied that he heard later that some did.
Related to that, another allegation about Freshwater was that there were a couple of boxes of Bibles in his room. Asked about them, Thompson said that Bryan Hawkins, who was then director of Campus Crusade for Christ at Ohio State and who organized the football players’ visit, told the students they should read the Bible every day and if they didn’t have one they should get one. Apparently some students said they wanted Bibles, so FCA members decided to go to churches and parents seeking donations. They stored the donated Bibles in Freshwater’s room, and 8th graders could pass them out to 6th and 7th graders. Thompson said that Freshwater didn’t collect them or pass them out.
Thompson said that several videos had been shown at FCA meetings, including the “Watchmaker.” According to Thompson, Jordan Freshwater showed it. (See above in Elifritz’s testimony for links to contradictory testimony.)
Thompson testified that when he was a student, FCA members put stickers on their lockers with Bible verses. The administration required that they be removed. Later they were allowed to put FCA identification on the lockers but not Bible verses. (Recall that Jeff Maley, former superintendent, also testified about this incident, referring to crosses on FCA students’ lockers.)
Hamilton asked of Thompson knew the school’s policy on controversial issues. He did not. He did have knowledge of the policy on religion in the schools. He said there was no training on Establishment Clause issues.
Thompson testified that he had one meeting with administrators regarding a substitute in his class who brought in outside materials referring to Brigham Young and faith in God. Later Thompson testified that in the meeting, Linda Weston, Director of Teaching and Learning, said she took part of the responsibility for that since she had advised substitute teachers to “have something in their grab bag to capture the students.”
Thompson testified that he had a parent conference with new Board of Education member Jodie Goetzman, whose offspring (my word-I didn’t catch the gender of the student) was in Thompson’s class. He testified that she told him that one of her top priorities as a Board member was to “fix the mess in the middle school.” He said he told Superintendent Short about the meeting during his conversation with Short.
Asked if Freshwater had used a Tesla coil on students, Thompson replied that he had in 2006-2007 when he (Thompson) was an intervention specialist in Freshwater’s room, and that it was a “static electricity” device. Thompson compared the Tesla coil to a Van de Graaff generator he saw at the Columbus Center for Science and Industry. (This bugs me no end: a Tesla coil is not a “static electricity device” or an “electrostatic device,” and it is not similar to a Van de Graaff generator.)
Asked how Freshwater used it, Thompson said he first demonstrated it on himself, drawing “an X across” on his arm. Thompson thought it was an appropriate experiment. He said that three students volunteered to be touched with the arc, and that it lasted 3-4 seconds. Thompson testifed that Freshwater would “hold the student by the bottom of the hand and mark an X on the underarm starting near the wrist and working up.” (That’s very close to a direct quote.) Hamilton had Thompson draw the mark he saw Freshwater make. He drew an X roughly 2” by 2”.
Hamilton displayed the two photographs of Zachary’s arm to Thompson. Thompson testified that he had seen them in the newspapers. Asked if any marks he had seen resembled the photos, Thompson said he doesn’t recall any that large, and that those he saw were more like an X.
Asked about reporting requirements under Ohio law, Thompson said that teachers have pre-school material on it. Asked, he said if a parent told him that a student was harmed in class yesterday, he would have to report it–“I’d probably go to my administrator first.” Asked what he would do if the parents told him they didn’t want it reported, he replied that he would still have to report it.
Regarding the Academic Content Standards, Thompson testified “They’re what I base my job off of.” Asked if a teacher could teach beyond the standards, he replied that he’d believe so. He testified that teachers were encouraged to use supplemental materials, and that the administration told teachers their job was to teach the standards. Asked where teachers could get supplemental resources, Thompson replied Teacher.net and other web resources that had material that met the standards. Asked if he agreed with Chuck Adkins’ testimony that teachers have wide latitude in using supplemental materials, he replied that he did.
Returning to the Ohio Achievement Test scores of Freshwater’s students, Thompson testified that they were a measure of students’ performance and how well a teacher was doing, and that they were pretty important. He testified that Mt. Vernon Middle School has progressed and has met “safe harbor” requirements in its progress, but that further improvement is necessary.
Hamilton asked if Thompson had heard that Freshwater’s students need to be retaught. He had not.
Hamilton then asked Thompson a series of questions regarding an analysis of 2007-2008 OAT scores Thompson had done when he was preparing his notes regarding what he saw as problems with the independent investigation. (The data are available on the district’s web site.)
The main points Thompson made from his analysis under Hamilton’s questioning were (1) Freshwater’s students scored higher on average on the science section of the OAT than did students of the other two middle school science teachers; (2) Freshwater’s students scored higher on average on the life sciences section of the OAT than did students of the other two middle school science teachers; (3) Freshwater’s students in the top three tiers (advanced, accelerated, and ‘bubble’) did as well as did the other teachers’ students at comparable levels; and (4) Freshwater’s students in the lowest two levels (basic and limited) did better than the other two middle school science teachers’ students.
Thompson testified that in Freshwater’s report card (feedback on test performance) from the state Department of Education concerning test performance, there was no “recommended next step” for life sciences.
Thompson testified that those data suggest that Freshwater’s students did not need to be retaught, and that in fact the evidence indicates the opposite, that his students on the whole have done well.
Thompson testified that Elle Button, another middle school science teacher, has incorporated some of Freshwater’s techniques concerning the scientific method into her own teaching.
Asked by Hamilton about his impression of Freshwater, Thompson testified “I see him as a mentor to me,” and that “He knows the content inside and out.”
Hamilton asked if Thompson learned evolution in 1998 when he was a student in Freshwater’s class. He replied that he did in Freshwater’s class and in Mrs. Steen’s class in high school. He testified that Freshwater taught evolution as well or better than anyone else he had as a teacher. (I’ll insert a cautionary note here: What “evolution” means in this context is not at all clear. Given some of the misconceptions I’ve heard in testimony since this hearing began, it’s impossible to say what Thompson thinks he learned when he says he learned “evolution.”)
Regarding the Bible on Freshwater’s desk, Thompson testified that “Visually the book was insignificant.”
Hamilton introduced a summary attendance report dated in late December 2007-2008 showing Corbin Heck’s attendance, Recall that Corbin had testified that the “Watchmaker” video was not shown in Freshwater’s class. During Corbin’s cross examination, David Millstone, Board attorney, introduced evidence that Corbin was absent 23 days that year. Thompson testified that the attendance report Hamilton introduced showed that Corbin was absent only 5.5 days.
However, in Thompson’s later cross examination it was established that the attendance report Hamilton introduced was for just November and December 2007, not the full year.
Then Hamilton moved to a meeting Thompson had with Linda Weston (her testimony about the meeting is here). Contradicting Weston’s earlier testimony, Thompson said the meeting was mainly about his having spoken publicly to the Board of Education in August, 2008. He testified that Weston asked him why he went to the Board, and told him he hadn’t sought her permission to do so. He said she told him that in future he should get her permission before doing so. He testified that she told him that she knew he was of the same religion as Freshwater and was therefore defending him. Thompson said he told her that wasn’t the case, and that he’d do the same thing for any teacher who was badly treated.
Asked whether Weston raised the topic of his job status, he testified that she mentioned an ex-teacher named Adam Pursell, who left the system. Thompson said she told him that “Things changed and he decided to follow a different career path.”
Thompson testified that she asked him if he were considering going into the ministry, and that “I think you’d make a good minister.” Thompson said “She made me feel as if maybe I wasn’t wanted or maybe was in the wrong groove.” Then, he testified, she began helping him plan a master’s degree program, apparently in education. There was no indication of why the internal inconsistency occurred.
Hamilton returned to Thompson’s reaction to the investigator’s report. Thompson testified that it was not fair nor accurate nor complete, but was biased and incomplete. Things in it conflicted with what he had experienced in Freshwater’s classroom.
Hamilton returned to Thompson’s meeting with Superintendent Short in June 2008, which Thompson said he had requested “to share my concerns.” Otherwise, he said, “I would be letting a good man and a good teacher be falsely accused.”
Hamilton introduced a copy of Thompson’s notes for the meeting (referred to earlier) into evidence. Thompson testified he had five objectives, and read them off quickly. The first four were (1) to express his concerns regarding the investigation process; (2) to shed light on inconsistencies between his experience and the allegations in the report; (3) to describe his experiences with Freshwater; (4) to argue a ‘slippery slope’ argument regarding the disciplining teachers based on parent complaints; and (5) an objective no one I talked with after the hearing caught.
Thompson testified that Freshwater provided a lengthy list of people for interview to the investigators, at least 11 or 12. As far as he knew, Thompson said, many of them were not interviewed.
Thompson testified that students Ben Neilson and Riley Swanson claimed that their interviews were not accurately represented in the report, though Thompson had talked only with Riley and not Ben (see here for the contradictory accounts of Ben Neilson’s interview with the investigators.
Thompson rapidly listed some of the inconsistencies he said were present. Among them was his statement about Zachary’s grandfather having some expertise in photography, and “With the knowledge today you can make an image look like anything.”
Thompson testified that he talked with Short about the difference between hypotheses and theories, and said something about a conversation with another 8th grade science teacher who told him “a theory is a fact.” Thompson testified that he looked up “theory” in a dictionary, and quoted to Short its definition of “theory” as a “guess” and said it was something to think about. He testified that he told Short that the dictionary showed the antonym of “theory” to be “fact.” (Bear in mind my note above about what Thompson thinks he learned about science from Freshwater.)
Thompson testified that Expelled (for which Freshwater gave an extra credit assignment) was a “video that dealt with different kinds of theories, evolution and intelligent design.” He said Freshwater tied it to an “objective and unbiased” benchmark in the state science standards. (That benchmark (Word document) actually reads
B. Explain the importance of reproducibility and reduction of bias in scientific methods.
It is classed under the Standard “Scientific Ways of Knowing.” That is, it’s a methodological benchmark and does not refer to alternative theories.
Thompson blurred past some other inconsistencies, for example that some teachers didn’t teach this or that. He said that Elle Button, another 8th grade science teacher, didn’t teach evolution last year, apparently because she ran out of time.
He testified that he “felt O.K.” about making his case to Short, and that he doesn’t know what happened thereafter.
Asked by Hamilton, Thompson testified that he never saw Freshwater hold a student’s arm when using the Tesla coil (contra his testimony earlier in the day above). Asked where the marks were made, Thompson said above the wrist on the forearm.
Andrew Thompson Cross Examination
First David Millstone, the Board’s attorney, asked Thompson to again draw the mark he saw Freshwater make on students’ arms with the Tesla coil. Again he drew a roughly 2” by 2” X shape.
Millstone then pressed on the question of holding students hands or wrists while making the mark. Thompson said Freshwater held students’ wrists “while positioning them,” but did not hold down their wrists. (The emphasis was in his tone of voice.)
Asked about the differences between the injury shown in the photographs of Zachary’s arm and what he saw on Freshwater’s students in 2006-2007, Thompson said there was more redness in the photos, that he doesn’t recall marks that big, and that the symbol doesn’t look like the X he drew. He testified that he did see marks on students’ arms following the demonstration, but that there was only slight redness and were not visible for numerous days.
Asked, Thompson said he had no experience with electrical burns. Asked if he knows the difference between static or another kind of electricity, he does not. Asked if a Tesla coil produces static electricity, he didn’t know. Asked what the Van de Graaff generator he saw at COSI generates, he didn’t know.
Thompson testified that Lori Miller was required to remove her Bible this week. Asked if he was present, he said he was not and that Miller had told him about it.
Thompson testified that Mr. Sanders, a guidance counselor, was also instructed to remove the Colin Powell/George Bush poster with the Bible verse from James.
Asked by Millstone if he were directed to do something by a principal, would he do it? Thompson replied that he has not been directed in any way comparable to Elilfritz and Miller. Asked if when he is asked to do things he follows instructions, Thompson replied “Correct.”
Millstone asked Thompson what a scientific theory is. Thompson replied that he doesn’t have a definition of it.
Millstone asked about examples of occasions on which students were to say “here!”. Thompson said if the book said something happened “200 billion years ago” versus “something happened 150 years ago.” And he said “the age of the earth and the age of animals, things like that.” And he said “carbon dating - 150 million years ago or 151 million years.”
Millstone asked if Thompson knew of hydrosphere theory. He doesn’t recall it, nor did he recall mention of bombardier beetles, angler fish, giraffes, or woodpeckers.
Asked, Thompson testified that he doesn’t know what Answers in Genesis is.
Millstone turned to the OAT and Standards, Thompson testified that the relevant OAT covers 6th, 7th, and 8th grade science. Asked how many different standards there are for science in those grades, Thompson testifed there were four main divisions, geology, life sciences, astronomy, and something he couldn’t remember. Shown the standards book, Thompson conceded there were six main divisions.
Asked, Thompson didn’t know how many benchmarks there are for life sciences nor how many there are for evolution, nor the percentage of life science benchmarks are on evolution. He didn’t know, but thought that perhaps there were two benchmarks for it.
Millstone then established that Corbin Heck’s attendance record, introduced in direct examination, was not for the full year, and that Thompson had misread it in testifying that it was. He testified that he didn’t access it himself and doesn’t know its source.
Millstone asked if Freshwater ever offered “both sides” about evolution. No, Thompson said, just the “here” practice which was from the beginning of the year.
Millstone asked if Thompson knows a student named Nathan Thomas. He replied “vaguely.” Asked whether in the event that Thomas signed an affidavit that Freshwater taught “both sides” would he believe it” Thompson replied “No.”
Millstone moved back to Thompson’s notes, and asked how he knew the student at issue was Zachary Dennis, since the federal court had imposed an anonymity requirement. Thompson replied that his sister, a student at the middle school, had overheard some boys comparing the marks on their arms, and that Zachary was one of them, and he (or she) inferred that Zachary’s family was the one who brought the complaint. Once again he brought up Zachary’s grandfather’s expertise in photography.
Asked about a note raised in his meeting with Short that apparently said it would take 5 minutes of exposure to the Tesla coil to produce the marks in the photos, Thompson said he heard that on a radio call-in show from an anonymous caller who claimed to be a nurse.
Asked to describe the photos, Thompson said they looked like superficial burns, but he didn’t know what degree. He said he would not describe the mark as an X, and that it was possibly a cross.
Thompson testified that he doesn’t think the photos are credible.
Andrew Thompson Redirect
Hamilton asked if Thompson needed to know the standards and benchmarks in order to prepare his analysis of the OAT scores. He replied he did not.
Hamilton asked if the FCA permission slip policy was instituted following an appearance by David Daubenmire. Thompson replied yes, that there was a parent complaint about it.
There was no re-cross.
We’re now in yet another pause, with the hearing due to resume in May, as far as I know.