Freshwater: Yet another student and yet another cross

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While the administrative hearing on the termination of John Freshwater as a Mt. Vernon, Ohio, middle school science teacher is slowly approaching a conclusion, the preliminaries to the two federal suits are in progress. Recall that the Dennis family’s suit against the school district was partly settled, with the district agreeing to pay attorney’s costs plus a small amount to the family. However, Freshwater remains a defendant in that suit. And Freshwater has sued a range of entities and people in federal court.

I recently obtained the transcript of a deposition made a year ago by another student in Freshwater’s class that academic year, 2007-2008, and that deposition corroborates two major allegations about Freshwater’s classroom behavior, the use of the Tesla coil to mark students’ arms with crosses and the showing of a creationist video, The Watchmaker in science class.

The deposition of the student, referred to in the deposition as “Student No. 5”, was taken on February 16, 2009 for the Dennis family’s federal suit. In it there are two passages of immediate interest. They’re below the fold.

The first testimony of interest concerns the showing of a creationist video, The Watchmaker, in science class. This is the relevant testimony from Student No. 5’s deposition:

Q. Okay. I’m going to show you a video and ask you if you have ever seen it before.
A. Was it the timekeeper’s video?
Q. It’s call The Watchmaker.
A. That’s it. Yeah. Last time I was in here for a video, the guy showed me that video.
Q. Another gentleman showed you a video?
A. When I came in here when they had asked me questions a few months ago. He asked me the same question. We watched it and, yeah, we did.
Q. You watched it? I’m going to show it to you just to make sure. Okay?
A. All right.
[Some interplay about what exhibit the video is for the record]
Q. Student No. 5, I’m going to show you a video called The Watchmaker. For purposes of the record–which you don’t have to worry about–this is Board Exhibit 17 from the State Administrative Hearing. I’m going to show you this video and just take a look and the question I would have for you is if you’ve ever seen this video before. Okay?
A. Okay.
Q. Can you see?
A. Yes.
[Whereupon the video was played]
Q. Okay. Student No. 5, my question for you is have you seen that video before today?
A. Yes.
Q. And where have you seen that video?
A. In his classroom.
Q. In Mr. Freshwater’s classroom?
A. Yes.
[SNIP]
Q. The video that you saw, do you recall when you saw it?
A. It was on a Friday. I don’t remember the exact date. But I remember it was on a Friday towards the end of class.
Q. How did it come about that that video was shown?
A. I don’t know. The day before at the end of class, he said he was going to show us a video call the watch keeper. And then the next day towards the end of class we watched it.

That is consistent with Zachary Dennis’s testimony and with teacher Kerri Mahan’s original testimony and her slightly modified testimony here. So three independent witnesses have Freshwater showing The Watchmaker in 8th grade science class. That testimony from three independent witnesses also undercuts Freshwater’s claim that his daughter was responsible for showing the video.

The second part of the testimony of interest concerns the making of marks on students’ arms with the Tesla coil.

Q. So the Tesla coil was used on you?
A. Yes.
Q. Did you volunteer?
A. Yes.
Q. And tell me how Mr. Freshwater used the Tesla coil on you.
A. He just–I came up, told me to put my arm out, and he just did a quick that, (Indicating) and that was it. And then I went back to my seat.
Q. Okay. You made a motion with your hand on the table. And it looked to me like you were drawing a shape on the table.
A. Yeah.
Q. What shape were you drawing?
A. It looked like a cross I guess you would say or a T, whatever you want to say.
Q. Like a lower case T or a cross?
A. Yes.
[SNIP]
Q. How many times did Mr. Freshwater have to go up and down and then across when he did the mark on your arm?
A. Once.
[SNIP]
Q. Did the mark leave any–did it leave any mark on your arm?
A. Yeah.
Q. What did it look like?
A. It kind of looked like a scar.
Q. A scar?
A. Yeah.
Q. And was it–when you say it looked like a scar, was it pink or red or white?
A. White
Q. And that was the way it looked on your arm?
A. Yeah.
Q. How long did that mark last on your arm?
A. About a week or two.
Q. As the mark faded did it just get lighter in color or what happened to it as it faded?
A. What do you mean?
Q. Well, you said it lasted a week or two. Did it stay the same? Did it look the same way the entire week or two?
A. No, it faded. Like it was very–not very noticeable at all.
Q. Okay. How long did it take before it wasn’t very noticeable at all?
A. Just a few days.
Q. Okay. Did you tell anybody about it outside of school? Did you tell your parents or your sister or brother?
A. No.
Q. Did you show the mark on your arm to anyone?
A. Yeah.
Q. Who did you show it to?
A. The only one I remember is Student No. 1. (RBH Note: I think that’s Zachary.)
Q. And you said your recall that Student No. 1 having the Tesla coil also applied to his arm at school?
A, Yes.
Q. And tell me what you saw and observed with regard to Mr. Freshwater using the Tesla coil on Student No. 1 in class.
A. What do you mean?
Q. What did you see Mr. Freshwater do to Student No. 1?
A. The same thing that he did to me.
Q. He also applied the same shape to Student No. 1’s arm?
A. Yes.
Q. Did you see the mark on Student No. 1 after Mr. Freshwater did it?
A. Yes.
Q. And did it appear to be in the shape of a cross?
A. The same as mine.
[SNIP]
Q. I’m going to show you two pictures. One’s marked Board Exhibit 7 and one’s marked Board Exhibit 8. Do you recognize either of those photos? (RBH Note: Those are the photos of Zachary’s arm taken the evening of the incident.)
A. What do you mean do I recognize them?
Q. Have you seen those photos before?
A. No, I haven’t.
Q. Have you seen an arm that has that mark on it before?
A. Yeah.
Q, Where did you see it?
A. Myself and Student No. 1.
[SNIP]
Q. Do you know whether that’s Student No. 1’s arm?
A. No, I don’t.
Q. Do you have any idea whose arm that is?
A. No, I don’t.
Q. The mark that was on your arm, was it similar to that?
A. Yes, it was.
Q. Was yours more red or less red?
A. The were about equal.
Q. About equal?
A. Yes.
Q. Now, you mentioned before yours was white.
A. Yes, like after it faded. Like after a week or so it turned white.
Q. Did it start off red?
A. Yes, it did.
Q. How long did it stay red?
A. A day or two.

And that establishes the veracity of Zachary’s testimony concerning the mark and the photographs as accurate records of it, and that Freshwater put crosses on at least three students, Zachary Dennis, Student No. 5 (who has not been called and apparently will not be called to testify in the administrative hearing), and Simon Souhrada.

10 Comments

I’m guessing none of the testimony in the lawsuits will be available at the hearing.

Wheels said:

I’m guessing none of the testimony in the lawsuits will be available at the hearing.

Not unless it’s introduced as part of one or the other’s side’s case. AFAIK it can be used. I have a vague memory of some reference in the hearing to a deposition in one of the federal suits, but I may be mistaken. I suspect that if the deposition is introduced, the student will be required to testify.

Richard, yet again, thank you!

This is really a lot of work and frankly, I’m still enraptured by the case.

Doesn’t Family Nr. 5 have the same grounds to sue as the Dennis Family? And since that suit’s already been largely successful…

Helena Constantine said:

Doesn’t Family Nr. 5 have the same grounds to sue as the Dennis Family? And since that suit’s already been largely successful…

I imagine they do, but once again, this is a small community and a suit (among other things) is asking for trouble. Note that the Dennis family has moved out of the district on account of pressure brought to bear on their children, mostly in the schools and some of it from teachers and coaches.

Marion Delgado said:

Richard, yet again, thank you!

This is really a lot of work and frankly, I’m still enraptured by the case.

Amen to that, but don’t you wonder how many of these “local” cases don’t get fully reported because there’s nobody in the area dedicated enough to put in this amount of work?

clerihew said:

Amen to that, but don’t you wonder how many of these “local” cases don’t get fully reported because there’s nobody in the area dedicated enough to put in this amount of work?

Marion,

I’ve generally been under the impression that it happens quite frequently, all over the country. First you have the issue of kids willing to complain. Usually that is in the neighborhood of one out of twenty kids. For that one kid, across the country, you’ll have probably one out of twenty parents who will take the complaint seriously and will be upset enough to contact the teacher. Of those parents, likely one out of ten or so aren’t satisfied by the explanation the teacher gives (because, to be honest, kids can misunderstand a point a teacher is trying to make), and realizes that they can take the issue to administration. Again, one out of ten or so parents will go beyond the local site administration, then one out of another ten or so will go to consult someone like the ACLU in the event the board doesn’t have a good explanation or resolves the situation. Then perhaps one in 10 cases goes beyond the point where the ACLU or some other organization sends them a letter to clarify their position/policy. Usually we only hear about the cases where a civil rights organization is involved, IE those last two examples, so we end up with:

1:10 of 1:10 of 1:10 of 1:10 of 1:20 of 1:20

Someone else can do the math, but I would estimate that’s probably pretty close to the overall ratio. Of course I’m so rusty at math I might have created a “one out of 6 billion people takes action” equation. ;o)

From dogmeatib’s formula, I make it that one case in four million cases reaches the last stage.

The US has roughly 20 million students in junior-middle high school, all of whom presumably do some science classes. If (I say if) the formula is correct, and if all these classes were taught creationism (a ludicrous assumption, but bear with me) then we would expect five cases a year to reach the last stage.

If only ten percent of the science classes were taught creationism, we would expect maybe one case every other year to reach the last stage, given the same assumptions.

Hmm. It would be worthwhile looking further into that formula. It bears some resemblence to the one that may be used to predict the incidence of intelligent life in the Galaxy, and like that one, sorely needs some known values plugged into it.

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clerihew said:

Marion Delgado said:

Richard, yet again, thank you!

This is really a lot of work and frankly, I’m still enraptured by the case.

Amen to that, but don’t you wonder how many of these “local” cases don’t get fully reported because there’s nobody in the area dedicated enough to put in this amount of work?

that is an excellent point and a very scary point, I often find myself wondering the same thing

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on January 13, 2010 11:20 PM.

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