Freshwater Day 6: Another student, another cross

Day 6 of the Freshwater administrative hearing was on October 31, 2008. Testifying were Paul Souhrada, an editor of the Columbus Dispatch and the parent of a student in Freshwater’s class; Souhrada’s son Simon; Richard Cunningham, chairman of the high school science department; Katie Beach, a middle school intervention specialist; Kerri Mahan, a middle school special education teacher; and Katherine Button, a former student in Freshwater’s 8th grade science class.

Important note: I did not get to the hearing in time to get a seat for the morning session. My summary of the morning (Paul and Simon Souhrada, Cunningham, and Beach) is based on an hour-long interview later that day with two people who were at the morning session and who took notes. So it’s second-hand information to me and third-hand to you. I did have a seat for the afternoon session (Mahan and Button). For another view on that morning’s testimony see the Columbus Dispatch story. I’ve used that story and the Mount Vernon News story as additional sources for the Friday morning session. Reporters Dean Narcisco (Dispatch) and Pam Schehl (News) were at the morning session.

More below the fold.

Paul Souhrada testimony

Paul Souhrada is the parent of a Mt. Vernon High School student who had Freshwater for 8th grade science in 2005-2006. Souhrada testified that he was shocked by a handout his son brought home from Freshwater’s class titled “Darwin’s Theory of Evolution: The Premise and the Problem” during the 2005-2006 school year. He had several discussions with his son about that and other issues the son brought home from Freshwater’s class. According to an April 19, 2008, story in the Dispatch Freshwater was instructed to cease using that handout in 2006 when a parent complained about it. Souradha testified that he complained to then-Superintendent Jeff Maley about the handout that year.

The source of the handout was apparently All About God Ministries. I’m informed that the piece has been modified since 2006 but that the current form, linked here, is similar to that used by Freshwater.

There was no cross examination.

Simon Souhrada testimony

As noted, Simon is a junior at Mt. Vernon high school and had Freshwater for 8th grade science in 2005-2006. He testified that Freshwater also burned his arm with a cross using the Tesla coil but that he didn’t report it to his parents. He said that the mark was visible for two or three weeks.

Simon testified that Freshwater was a “solid teacher” until he got to evolution. He said Freshwater taught that there are problems with carbon dating and that he started using handouts like the “Premise” handout. Simon testified that he did not recall Freshwater using the phrases “intelligent design” or “creationism.”

Simon testified that he overheard Freshwater tell some other students that “Catholics aren’t Christians.” As the Dispatch story linked above reports, when Hamilton asked on cross examination why Simon remembered that phrase four years later, Simon replied that he is Catholic. Asked if he was offended by it, Simon replied that he isn’t easily offended.

Richard Cunningham testimony

Dick Cunningham was chairman of the high school science department over the relevant period, 2002-3 to 2007-8. He testified that he investigated the source of the “Premise” handout by using a web tool for teachers to detect plagiarism, and found a 100% match with the All About God Ministries version referred to above. He also noted that Freshwater’s ‘dragon’ handout also appeared to be from that site.

Cunningham testified that he met with Freshwater, Schutte, and Mr. Koons (middle school principal) in 2002-2003 when the district was aligning its curriculum with the new state standards. They apparently scheduled another meeting for April 2003, but by then Freshwater had proposed the Intelligent Design Network’s “Objective Origins Policy” to the science curriculum committee and it’s not clear if that meeting occurred.

Cunningham testified that a “theory” in science is not guesswork, and that there are no viable alternatives to the modern theory of evolution.

In cross examination Cunningham conceded that he was not good about handing in lesson plans, that he had not observed Freshwater actually teaching, and that he has no information that Freshwater explicitly taught creationism or intelligent design.

Hamilton confronted Cunningham with an email from Cunningham to (someone) inquiring about his reimbursement for attending a conference/workshop on the topic “The Earth is Flat.” Hamilton inquired whether that was an alternative theory, and what was wrong with Freshwater having materials about alternative theories in his classroom. Cunningham responded that the conference was about technology and its effect in connecting people (it was based on Tom Friedman’s book of the same title). Hamilton asked Cunningham “What shape is the earth?” Cunningham replied “Round.” On redirect Cunningham clarified the nature of the conference. Millstone asked if Hamilton’s reference to “The Earth is Flat” wasn’t just a red herring. On objection from Hamilton the remark was struck from the record.

Katie Beach testimony

Katie Beach is a special needs intervention specialist (formerly called tutors) and worked with special needs students in Freshwater’s classroom for most of the 2007-2008 academic year. She testified that in his science class Freshwater referred to believing the Bible and that it is contradictory to what he teaches. She testified that Freshwater described hydrosphere theory in class and that in that context he referred to a flood and a boat, though she didn’t recall whether Freshwater specifically mentioned Noah.

According to the Dispatch story linked above, she testified that Freshwater also told students to refer to their Bible for additional science research and that the Big Bang theory couldn’t explain how a complex world could exist. With reference to Big Bang theory, she testified that Freshwater told students to refer to the Bible for an alternative theory.

She testified that Freshwater told students that a brontosaurus could not have existed since its brain would explode due to problems – blood pressure? – associated with the length of its neck. (That’s a new one on me – I’ve never run into that claim and couldn’t find it in a fast web search. I’d welcome more info on the claim.)

She testified that Freshwater used purported dating anomalies of debris from the Mt. St. Helen eruption to discredit scientific dating methods. (Recall that was probably a reference to Steve Austin’s mis-sampling.)

Beach testified that she left the room when Freshwater was discussing Easter, since she thought it was inappropriate. She testified that she promptly enforced the new permission slip policy with her special needs students.

Kerri Mahan testimony

Kerri Mahan was a special education teacher in 2007-2008 who worked an hour a day in Freshwater’s classroom. She’s now a math teacher. Mt. Vernon uses an inclusion approach to special needs education where the students are placed in ‘regular’ classes and special ed teachers work with them in the context of those ‘regular’ classes.

Mahan testified that she saw the religious materials in Freshwater’s classroom, including religious-themed posters, the stickers on cabinet doors with Bible verses, and bibles in boxes in the back of the room.

She testified that Freshwater used the four handouts hinting at ID/creationism identified in the investigator’s report and in prior testimony from students. She testified that there was a class debate about evolution and creationism that lasted the best part of a class period. She said that hydrosphere theory was taught, and described it in the same general terms as students had previously used in testimony. She doesn’t recall whether Freshwater related it to a flood. She testified that Freshwater suggested that dinosaurs and humans lived together on earth.

She couldn’t remember if Freshwater discussed alternatives to Big Bang theory, but that he suggested that radio carbon dating may be faulty, and that its validity is harder to establish as things get older. (Note, by the way, the phrase used throughout the hearing by everyone has been “carbon dating,” not “radiometric dating.”)

Mahan remembered an extra-credit assignment concerning how the date of Easter is determined, but did not remember a discussion of the meaning of Easter. She remembered Freshwater teaching the periodic table of the elements.

Asked about a series of videos, Mahan did not remember whether videos on the Loch Ness monster, Mt. St. Helen’s, or Kent Hovind were shown, but she did specifically remember “The Watchmaker” being shown in class. Recall that Zachary Dennis testified to the effect that it was shown in class, but Freshwater testified (same link) that it was shown only in FCA at his daughter’s suggestion. Mahan’s testimony corroborates that of Zachary and contradicts Freshwater’s testimony in this respect.

More on the source of The Watchmaker:

We are excited to announce that we’ve added a new Dynamation to our site! This dyna focuses on our Creator through a poetic story and message that we believe will encourage believers and start the gears turning in minds turned from God.

Mahan cross examination: Hamilton elected to forgo cross since Mahan will be brought back when Freshwater presents his case in chief.

Katherine Button direct examination

Kate Button (as she prefers to be called) is a student at Ohio Dominican University, the daughter of Elle Button, a middle school science teacher in the Mt. Vernon schools, and had Freshwater for 8th grade science in 2002-2003.

Button testified that Freshwater’s class was very scattered, jumping from topic to topic. She said he often read to the class from Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul and showed videos of Freshwater’s year of missionary work in China and pictures and talk of his smoke jumping days in Idaho.

She said that Freshwater mentioned intelligent design. (Recall that 2002-2003 was the year Freshwater made his “Objective Origins Policy” proposal to the school.) She testified that Freshwater told them there was new evidence that dinosaurs were still around when humans were on earth.

She recognized the ‘Giraffe’ and Dinosaur Extinction handouts as those she had given to her mother, having brought them home from Freshwater’s class. There were strikeouts on one of the handouts, and Button testified that in the original she could still read “biblical” through a strikeout.

With reference to carbon dating, Button testified that Freshwater said it wasn’t really a [blank - missed a word] science and students shouldn’t really trust or believe it.

Asked by Millstone if Freshwater taught that evolution wasn’t really a scientific theory, she answered that he did, that he said “it couldn’t be proven wrong”.

Kate Button cross examination

On cross examination, Button was asked if she took the handouts home to her mother during the school year. She replied that she had done so, often the same day they were handed out. Asked what her mother said about them, Button replied that there was little or no discussion, that her mother didn’t talk about other teachers at home.

Asked whether Freshwater used “creation” in class she replied that he did, and she also affirmed that he used the phrase “intelligent design.”

There was some blur concerning with the several handouts associated with Kate and Elle Button. In 2002-2003 Freshwater apparently also gave Elle Button, the teacher, copies of his handouts after the school day, sometimes sent via Kate. It wasn’t clear if they were the same handouts. Kate mentioned, for example, that on her version of one handout “biblical” was visible through a manual strikeout on the paper, and Kate had noted in the margin “Does God exist?” She couldn’t remember the reason she made that notation.

Hamilton asked what her grade was from Freshwater. She replied that she got a A or a B, and that she didn’t pay much attention to grades. Asked what she paid attention to, she replied “What I learn.”

Finally in cross examination Button testified that her mother had disapproved of her coming forward to testify, on the ground that it might elicit community disapproval.

Asked on redirect why she came forward in spite of her mother’s disapproval, Button said it was something she had wanted to do since 8th grade.

Recross examination was deferred, and the hearing was adjourned for the day, month, and year. It will resume on January 6, 2009.

Later (if I feel real ambitious) I may write a summary that attempts to assess the state of testimony at this point. Commenters are welcome to post their versions of such a summary.