Freshwater Day 11: Board's case ends; Freshwater's begins

Today saw the end of the Board of Education’s case and the beginning of the presentation of John Freshwater’s case. To start this morning, David Millstone, the Board’s attorney, moved the admission of the 60 Exhibits he had introduced during various parts of the Board’s case. Freshwater’s attorney, R. Kelly Hamilton, told the referee that he planned to object to some of them, so action on the motion was deferred until some time in the future. That concluded the Board’s case.

Hamilton has subpoenaed 18 witnesses, and believes we can finish by Friday (I’ll believe that when I see it!). We heard three witnesses today: Jordan Freshwater, John Freshwater’s daughter and a leader in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in 2007-2008; Dino D’Ettorre, a 6th grade science teacher in the Middle School; and Barbara Spitzer, a special education teacher in the Middle School and a member of the 8th grade ‘team’ of which Freshwater was a part. (Also see the Columbus Dispatch story.)

More below the fold

Jordan Freshwater Direct Examination

Hamilton began direct examination by asking if Jordan had read the investigators’ report. She had not. He asked if she had asked her parents if the investigator would talk to her. She had. He asked why she is testifying today. She replied “I know a lot of truth and I think it should be shared” about FCA.

A series of questions established her role in FCA last year: a leader. Asked if she was a Christian she agreed. Asked if one had to be a Christian to be in FCA her answer was inaudible. (Jordan has what seems to be a slight speech impediment and speaks softly, so it was often hard to hear her.)

A series of questions established her perception of the role of ‘leaders’ in FAC: to arrange speakers, lead programs, help things run smoothly.

Another series of questions established her perception of the role of faculty members. She testified that her dad sat in the back and made sure the meeting was under control.

Freshwater was usually at meetings; occasionally other teachers would attend. Meetings consisted of some combination of speakers, Bible verses and lessons, movies, and prayer. She said students initiated and led prayers, and that Freshwater had not initiated or led any prayers.

She testified that Freshwater spoke with her about FCA outside of school, and spoke about FCA with FCA students outside of meetings. Asked about her father’s praying, she said he “prays all the time.”

Jordan described the ‘healing prayer’ scene that’s been testified to and described in the investigator’s report. She said that someone – a student, she thi\ought – suggested that they pray for a speaker who was ill. They formed a circle around the speaker, with the speaker and Jordan in the middle, and the prayer occurred. Students in the circle reached out and touched the speaker as they prayed. She said her father was “on the outskirts of the circle.” She denied that “Satan” was mentioned during the prayer. She didn’t remember specifically if her father and another teacher present also put their hands out or on the speaker. She did say that everyone participated in the prayer.

Jordan denied that her father had ever passed out Bibles at an FCA meeting or told students to pass them out. She denied that he asked students to memorize Bible verses.

Jordan testified that students took the lead in contacting potential speakers and following up to confirm speakers. She testified that students also mostly filled out the speaker forms that were turned in to her father for signature and to the Principal’s office. She denied that her father ever initially contacted a speaker or suggested a speaker. According to her, Freshwater’s role was to make sure speakers got in the building and knew where to go. With respect to an FCA speaker from the Will Graham Crusade that was held in Knox County in last year, she testified that she volunteered with the Crusade and asked the speaker to come to FCA. Her father also volunteered with the Crusade.

Confronted with an email to a speaker from her father’s school email account, she said that she sent it. There was some strange business about the email. It was signed “Freshwater,” which she said she would not use as a signature. However, there was evidently a space before the “Freshwater” where Hamilton speculated her first name could fit. She agreed.

Jordan testified that she selected most of the movies shown at FCA. Asked specifically about “The Watchmaker,” she said she first saw it on her father’s computer at school, where he had received it from someone. She testified that “It showed something that I believe, thought it was a good example, so I showed it” at FCA. Recall that testimony has established that Freshwater also showed that film in his science class.

She testified that she was “Expelled: Not Intelligence Allowed” with her family and friends. She didn’t know if her father was involved in an effort to get “Expelled” shown in the local theater.

She testified that she had Elle Button for 8th grade science. Asked if Mrs. Button used debates in class, she said that “a kid brings up something and we talk about it.” Asked about movies, she remembered one about dinosaurs and how they evolved.

She testified that her father had used a Tesla coil in class for years. She saw it in school and at home. Demonstrating how it was used with her finger, she made a swift move down her forearm lasting a second or so.

She saw Freshwater give a demo of it in 2nd or 3rd grade, and she saw it used by Mr. D’Ettorre in 6th grade (more on that later). She said that D’Ettorre used it on perhaps 3/4 of her 6th grade science class, not actually touching a student but allowing the arc to jump to the students’ arms. She testified that she had been “touched” with it twice, both times by her father, and that it “tickled.” She testified that her father used it on an older brother who had a broken leg in a cast, “to stimulate it.”

Asked to describe her father, she said he was an “out of the box” person, very active, “he’s different,” not ordinary, makes things fun. She said he affects everyone around him, and is very active in the community. She said her father says “I love science,” and that other students say “I love science” on account of him. She creid a little during this testimony.

Jordan testified that he has Bibles everywhere – on his desk, in his car, at home by his bed, by his chair, etc. He has 7 Bibles. Other family members also have their own Bibles.

In answer to another question, Jordan said “We don’t push the Bible on people.” They refer to it, get inspiration from it, find answers in it.

Asked about his organization methods, Jordan testified that “He’s not a very neat person.”

Finally, asked if she would have told the investigator what she testified to today, she said “Yes.” Asked if she has been truthful, she said “Yes.”

Jordan Freshwater Cross

Cross examination began with examination of the FCA speaker resource forms filed with the Principal in 2007-2008. David Millstone, Board attorney, walker her through all the forms. She testified that she filled out most of them, but sometimes other students filled them out. Three, however, she identified as having been filled out by her father.

Asked about the form that asserted that Zach Dennis had contacted a speaker, she testified that she had filled it out and that someone else had told her Zach had made the contact. Zach did not tell her that. (Recall that Zach testified that Mr. Freshwater told him to contact that speaker.)

She wasn’t sure if she remembered having to turn in a parental permission form to use the computer system at school.

Jordan Freshwater Redirect

On redirect Hamilton asked her if it’s possible that one speaker, Pastor Turner, came to FCA when a speaker resource form hadn’t been required or signed. She said some speaker forms weren’t required for an FCA meeting held early morning on Fridays before school started. (The rest were during school hours, at lunch time.)

Referring to a speakers list in her father’s possession in his desk, she testified that it had been handed down from the leadership groups of previous years.

There was no recross.

Dino D’Ettorree Direct Examination

Dino D’Ettorre is a long time Middle School teacher in the Mt. Vernon school system. He is nearing 30 years of serve, near retirement. Over the years he has taught language arts, reading, math, and science.

Hamilton remarked that in a conversation in the hall before his testimony, D’Ettorre had mentioned he was apprehensive about testifying. D’Ettorre agreed that he was.

Hamilton first asked if D’Ettorre had spoken with the independent investigator. He said he’d spoke with a woman who identified herself as the principal investigator’s wife. He testified that the interview was short, perhaps 15 or 20 minutes, and he was asked only if he had used the Tesla coil (yes) and if he had heard any complaints (No). He couldn’t remember any other questions.

D’Ettorre testifed that he’d spoken with David Millstone, the Board’s attorney, in the fall of 2008. He said he told Millstone that he had used a Tesla coil to touch students with the arc, not directly, and that he does not pray with the 6th grade FCA students he monitors. He testified that he had not been to an 8th grade FCA meeting.

Asked how he used the Tesla coil, D’Ettorre said he would touch the arc to his own forearm, and then ask if students wanted to be touched with the arc. A number would volunteer, he said. He said that he had done this perhaps 2 or 3 times in the last 5 years.

Asked how he knew how to use it, D’Ettorre testified that he had himself been shocked with one when he was in high school or college. Asked if he had consulted other middle school tyracher about it, he said that another teacher, Don Newcomer, told him he had used it in class.

Asked to demonstrate on Hamilton how he used the Tesla coil, D’Ettorre sketched a straight line down Hamilton’s forearm. He testified that it may or may not leave a mark and that any marks were gone in a matter of hours. He testified that th emark could sometimes be described as an X or a cross. D’Ettorre testified that sometimes students asked for specific marks – crosses, hearts, “make it go this way,” etc. He tried to accommodate them.

Asked if he had heard any complaints. D’Ettorre said No.

Shown the pictures taken by Zachary Dennis’ parents of the mark on his arm and asksed if he thought the Tesla coil could leave such a mark, D’Ettorre testified that “I personally have not seen it.” He said he had seen “dots” caused by the Tesla coil.

D’Ettorre testified that there were no written instructions on the use of the Tesla coill, and that he had not looked on the web for them.

While D’Ettorre had Zachary Dennis in 6th grade, he couldn’t remember if Zach participated in D’Ettorre’s Tesla coil demonstrations.l

Hamilton asked D’Ettorre what constituted a “religious display.” He replied that it was something that displayed religion. Asked if he had a religious display in his room, he said no, but he had a Bible in a cabinet. He has seen Freshwater’s Bible, but never saw him reading it or from it in front of students, and never saw Freshwater teach from it.

D’Ettorre testified that he was not aware of any religious items in the Middle School.

Asked about the school’s Controversial Issues policy, D’Ettorre testified that he taought out of his science book. The policy says to stay within the standards/benchmarks/indicators.

Hamilton asked of kids ever asked about Good Friday or Easter. D’Ettorre testified that they did. Asked how he answered, D’Ettorre said he told them that Good Friday was the day our Lord was crucified. (I didn’t hear the Easter answer: D’Ettorre, like many of the witnesses, is soft-spoken and facing away from my chair.) Asked if he was trying to convert children to Christianity, D’Ettorre denied it. Asked if he had any training on how to handle controversial issues, he replied he had not.

D’Ettorre testifed that there was no documentation of a requirement to teach just to the standards/benchmarks/indicators of the Academic Content document. He does not know of any teachers who teach “beyond” the standards. He testified that there were in-service meetings on using the Academic Content document given by a prior Principal. He said that he uses what the school provides by way of books and materials, and occasionally brings in material from home. (Parenthetically I’ll note that my wife teaches high school special ed in the Mt. Vernon schools, and we spend hundreds of dollars per year on materials the school can’t afford to provide.)

D’Ettorre agreed that teachers have wide latitude to bring in resources.

He was asked if kids bring up creationism or ID. I couldn’t hear his answer. Asked if they bring up religion or if he goes to church or if he has a Bible, he said they do.

Hamilton then asked D’Ettorre what “salvation message” means. D’Ettorre answered that “in order to get to heaven, you have to give your heart to the Lord.” Asked if he had ever told a student that, D’Ettorre answered that he had done so.

Asked if he prayed in FCA (where he is 6th grade monitor), D’Ettorre said that he had done so a couple of times, once to give a blessing and once a closing prayer.

Asked if there were other times he prayed with students, D’Ettorre testified that he did so “If students wanted to come to know the Lord and wanted to pray for salvation.” D’Ettorre testified that over the years as many as 60 students had “accepted the Lord” through their membership in FCA and their relationship with D’Ettorre. Asked what it felt like to have saved so many souls, D’Ettorre said “If that’s what the student wants, and you want to have eternity with the Lord, [inaudible].” See the cross examination notes below for more on this topic: D’Ettorre testified that he stopped doing that several years ago.

(I was accurately quoted in the Columbus Dispatch a while ago as saying “It appears to me that Freshwater has been running his own private Christian school embedded in the public schools.” It looks like Freshwater wasn’t the only one.)

Asked about his role in FCA, D’Ettorre replied “law and order.” He testified he’d received no training in being an FCA monitor.

D’Ettorre testified that he was a member of the teacher’s union, the OEA, and was once a negotiator. Asked how a teacher is to resolve problems, he was vague.

D’Ettorre testified that he has worked with Freshwater for roughly 18 years, apparently mostly as a coach. He testified that he has never heard any complaints about Freshwater. Asked if he knew of any evidence that Freshwater’s students had to be “retaught,” he replied only what he’d read in the newspapers. Asked about Freshwater’s work habits, he testifed that as a coach Freshwater was ethical, organized, and that “teachers looked up to him because of his integrity, what he stands for, wisdom.”

Asked his impresion about Freshwater in the community outside school, D’Ettorre testified that his impression was that “he helps others, cares for others, and wants to help people.”

Asked about Principal White’s supervision style, D’Ettorre said he doesn’t see White as much as he did other Principals, though the Middle School administrators divided up grade duties differently in 2007-2008.

Asked if he had received a “Teacher of the Year” award, D’Ettorre said that he had received one. (This is a reference to the “Distinguished Teacher” awards that were handed out on the nomination of … well, of practically anyone. There was no selection process or judging process for them. According to Superintendent Short’s testimony, one could even get that award for being a good committee member.)

Gino D’Ettorre Cross Examination

David Millstone first asked D’Ettorre about his apprehension about testifying, and whether it was due to fear of having been found to have done something improper. D’Ettorre said that it was. He’s close to retirement and is afraid of being fired. (Note that no disciplinary proceeding is under way with respect to D’Ettorre.)

Asked if he has done those improper activities –praying with students, etc. – since he learned it was improper? D’Ettorre said he had not, not since he took a class on religion in the schools at the local Mt. Vernon Nazarene University four or five years ago. Asked about the last time he had prayed in class, he replied not since he took that class.

Asked if he follows the text in teaching, he replied he did. Showed a Board Exhibit, D’Ettorre identified it as the Grade 6 Science Assessment Map, which relates the curriculum to the standards and assessment tests. He participated in preparing it.

Asked if his Principal gave directions if he would follow them, he responded that he would. Asked if he would follow a Principal’s direction to remove something from his room, he replied that he would.

Redirect and Recross

On redirect Hamilton asked D’Ettorre if he knew Tim Keib. D’Ettorre identified Keib as a former assistant Principal and interim Principal preceding White. Hamilton asked if D’Ettorre and Keib had talked about praying with students. He replied that they had. Asked when he learned about not praying in class, he said at the Nazarene class he and his wife took. Asked if he prayed with students after that class, D’Ettorre said he couldn’t recall doing so.

There was no recross.

Barbara Spitzer Direct Examination

Barbara Spitzer is a special education teacher in the Middle School, and was a member of the team of 8th grade teachers of which Freshwater was a member. (The 8th grade teachers are grouped into several multidisciplinary teams.) She said that she had not spoken with the investigators, nor had spoken with anyone about her prospective testimony. She said she had not read the independent investigator’s report.

Asked by Hamilton how often she was in Freshwater’s class, she said she was not in his class in session, that they consulted often about students outside class hours. She said she had never heard a complaint about Freshwater.

She testified that Zachary Dennis was in her language arts classroom two periods a day helping with special ed students. She said that he had never complained to her about Freshwater. She said their relationship was such that she thought he would have no fear of telling her about an injury, and that he had not done so. She heard about the allegations on television.

She testified that she had asked to work with Freshwater because “he gave kids what they needed.” Asked what that was, she said he “gets kids excited about science.”

She testified that she was not aware of religious items in the Middle School, but that she was aware of at least one other teacher with a Bible on her desk, Becky Cronk.

She testified that she was in the union, and that if she had a problem she would first talk with her principal, then the superintendent, then the union.

Asked if she knows what a Tesla coil is, she said she’d seen a picture of one in a newspaper. She said she had heard that some teachers used one in class, but couldn’t remember who.

Spitzer testified that she was not aware of any teachers teaching beyond the standards. She said it was permissible to bring in materials beyond those provided by the school.

She testified that she has never used debates in her classes.

Asked about Freshwater’s teaching style, she characterized it as “hands on, student-oriented.” Asked about his work habits, she said he was ambitious, willing to do what’s asked, willing to modify something if need be, positive.

She testified that her 8th grade team had the LD (learning disabled) and CD (cognitively disabled) IEP students, while other teams had other sorts of IEP students.

She testified that she had helped Freshwater come up with extra credit projects for some students. She said that she had seen “Expelled.”

She said no student had ever told her Freshwater was reading or teaching from the Bible or talking about religion in class.

Barbara Spitzer Cross Examination

Millstone asked the last time Spitzer was in Freshwater’s classroom when he was teaching. She replied 1981-82. That generated some discussion, since Freshwater wasn’t teaching in the system then. She finally decided it was early in his tenure in Mt. Vernon.

Redirect and Recross

Nothing worth recording.

Thus endeth the 11th day. We resume tomorrow morning.