Freshwater Hearing Days 16 and 17

I’ve already posted much of the meat of Days 16 and 17 here and here. In this post I’ll summarize the testimony of the other witnesses who testified on those days, Lori Miller, Linda Weston, and Jeff Cline.

Day 16:

On Thursday, March 26, in addition to Ben Neilson’s testimony summarized in the posts linked above we heard the completion of Lori Miller’s cross examination (direct examination and the beginning of cross examination here), and the direct and cross examination of Linda Weston, former Director of Teaching and Learning in the district.

Lori Miller cross examination (continued)

David Millstone, attorney for the Board of Education, returned to the meeting held August 21, 2008, after Miller had spoken publicly at a Board of Education meeting describing her religious materials in her classroom. Attending the meeting were Middle School Principal White, Assistant Middle School Principal Ritchie, Superintendent Short, and a union representative. (Recall from her direct testimony that she surreptitiously recorded that meeting. Millstone had listened to the recording overnight.) According to her direct testimony that meeting had several topics, including an issue with her teaching license renewal having been put on hold by the State Department of Education. In her direct testimony she had alluded elliptically to a “court case” and “charges being dropped.” Under questioning by Millstone she said that three criminal charges had been filed against her by police after an incident the previous summer in another county. Two of the three charges were subsequently dropped and on advice from her lawyer she pleaded no contest to the third, a minor misdemeanor. She said that Superintendent Short assured her at the meeting that she would be in her classroom when classes started, and indeed her license was renewed by the state.

Another issue in the meeting had to do with her using a sick day rather than personal day for a court appearance. That apparently wasn’t resolved.

The final issue had to do with religious displays in her classroom. Asked by Millstone if she had advised Short of a stone with a Bible verse from Philippians on her desk, she said she had. Regarding religious materials displayed, she testified that she asked if her Bible could stay on her desk and that Short had told her it could. She said she felt comfortable leaving it on her desk as a consequence of the meeting.

Millstone moved to a post-meeting conference Miller had with the union representative. He asked if the representative advised her that he had asked the union (Ohio Education Association) to do some legal research, and that the research showed the Board could legally require her to remove the Bible from her desk. She replied that was the case.

Millstone introduced into evidence a letter from Superintendent Short to Miller. The letter summarized what she had been instructed to do in the meeting, and indicated that she had agreed to comply. That letter referred to the religious materials displayed on her bulletin board, but apparently not to the Bible and devotional books on her desk. (I didn’t see it, and depend on testimony for that description.)

Miller testified that she didn’t inform participants in the meeting that she was recording it, and said she had legal advice to the effect that was O.K. Asked if she though it was morally right to do so, she replied that she regarded it as “covering her butt” so she was sure what she was expected to do as a result of the meeting. She testified that she didn’t view it as unethical.

Lori Miller Redirect

On redirect examination R. Kelly Hamilton, Freshwater’s attorney, led Miller through a more detailed account of the charges that were filed, dropped, and pleaded no contest to. I’m not going to summarize that here except to say Miller’s account of it appeared to exonerate her of any criminal activity but rather was more of the nature of a misunderstanding resulting in a minor charge that she pleaded no contest to in order to save time and money on prolonged legal wrangling and costs. Since it was a minor misdemeanor her attorney apparently told her it would have no downstream consequences. Asked if she regretted pleading no contest, she replied that at the time she didn’t want to but that the time and cost of defending herself then were too great.

Returning to the August meeting, Hamilton asked if Miller asked the administrators about a rumor that a long-term substitute teacher was to be hired for her classes. She replied that she did and that the superintendent assured her that wasn’t the case. She speculated in testimony that the District Central Office was the source of the rumor. (Actually, the fact that her license was on hold at the State Department of Education was known in the community, learned from the DOE web site by a private citizen – not me! – and was mentioned on local Web boards during August 2008, when that rumor about a long-term sub was supposed to be circulating.)

Hamilton asked if she was advised by administrators about filing a grievance if she was unsatisfied with the instructions given at the meeting. She said she was. Noting that Miller had accompanied Freshwater to at least one of his meetings with administrators last year, Hamilton asked if she had heard him being advised he could file a grievance. She said he had not been so advised.

Regarding an issue over the use of a month of sick days in the fall of the preceding year (2007-2008), she testified that she had been in a hospital in Washington for a month after what she called “a meltdown.” Asked whether she had talked with the OEA representative after the meeting, she said she had and was comfortable with it.

Returning to the Philippians stone on her desk, Hamilton asked if it could have been at a different meeting she talked with Short about it. She replied it could have been, since they’d had several meetings concerning restarting FCA last fall.

Asked if she was made aware that the Board of Education might change its mind regarding the Bible on her desk, she replied she’d been told that and inferred that the Board was looking at what they should do legally.

Hamilton returned to the morality and ethics of surreptitiously (my word) recording meetings. She testified that she knows of no moral or ethical standard anywhere against that, and there is no Mt. Vernon school policy specifically prohibiting it.

There was no re-cross, and that ended Miller’s testimony.

Linda Weston Direct Examination

Linda Weston was an administrator in the Mt. Vernon City Schools for approximately 12 years, including Director of Teaching and Learning for around 8 years (if I heard her correctly), from 2000 to 2008, and was a teacher before that. That Director position is basically a staff position, not a line management/administrative position. She retired at the end of calendar 2008. I warn you in advance: Weston is very soft-spoken and hearing her testimony was very difficult. I’m normally seated behind and to the right of witnesses and can’t see their faces when they testify so soft-spoken witnesses are tough to report accurately. In addition, Hamilton’s style is to jump around from topic to topic, so reconstructing a coherent thread is no fun.

Hamilton first asked if she expected to re-employed by the district. She replied no. He asked if that is by her choice. She replied, “No it is not.” Asked about her current employment, she said she had a contract with Houghton-Mifflin, the textbook publishers. It wasn’t specified what the contract was for.

Weston testified that she met twice with the HR OnCall investigators, a man and a woman. At the second meeting Dick Cunningham, high school science department chair, and Charles Adkins, middle school science teacher were also present. Cunningham and Adkins had done analyses of a handout that Freshwater used (“Darwin’s Theory: The Premise and the Promise” I believe is the title – it’s in my previous notes somewhere but I can’t find it at the moment).

Weston brought notes to the hearing that she had made to refresh her memory between the first and second meetings with the investigators in the spring of 2008. Hamilton requested a copy – she had given a copy to David Millstone, Board attorney, sometime late last year.

Hamilton first asked why she wasn’t called by the Board’s side as a witness. Millstone objected, and the objection was sustained.

She testified that she had complied fully with a subpoena from the Freshwater side for documents, and had turned over copies of her file from 2002-3 when Freshwater had proposed including what amounts to ID creationism in the science curriculum.

Weston testified that while she told the investigators she’d had “11 years of problems” with Freshwater, her documentation started in 2002 when he originally brought his proposal to include material critical of evolution in the science curriculum. Prior to that time, she said, she had heard complaints from teachers in the middle school and high school, but hadn’t documented them.

She testified there were both internal and external complaints. She described one example in which a parent told her that Freshwater asked his class whether they believed in evolution, and when one girl raised her hand he said, “Well, we’ll see about that.”

Most complaints, though, were internal, she testified. She named four science teachers (Elle Button, Bonnie Schutte, Dick Cunningham, and Susan White) and one administrator (Kathy Kasler) as sources of complaints.

The documentation she had consisted of the materials from Freshwater’s 2002-3 proposal, emails from Bonnie Schutte, and email from Dick Cunningham. She also had a handout Elle Button had given her, passed out in Freshwater’s class when Button’s daughter Kate was in his class (see here for Kate Button’s testimony). She did not recall the student questionnaires from Bonnie Schutte (see here for Schutte’s testimony).

Hamilton asked whether Weston had spoken to then-Middle School Principal Koons Kuntz about the matter. She testified that her conversations about the matter were with Jeff Maley, then superintendent, and that Principals did not report to her. Asked why then the teachers came to her rather than the Principal, she replied that she was a communication link for them to the superintendent.

Hamilton asked if she believed the curriculum wasn’t being taight in Freshwater’s classroom, she replied that she believed additional material not consistent with the curriculum was being taught.

She testified that Jeff Maley told her that he had met with Tim Keib, then the assistant principal of the middle school, and that Keib would be taking care of it. She testified that Keib told Weston (and others”) that “he came from the same place” as Freshwater religiously and could make it clear to Freshwater where the boundaries are. (Keib, it was testified earlier, inscribed a poster given to another teacher, a Mr. Sanders, “Thank you for ministering to MVMS students. You’ll never know how much I needed you this year.”) Keib, to the best of my information, is a co-religionist of Freshwater. Keib was also Freshwater’s evaluator when Freshwater’s turn for teacher evaluation rolled around in the last two or three years, I think in 2006.

Asked why she thought Keib’s intervention was unsuccessful, Weston cited a handout subsequently used by Freshwater, given her by Elle Button from her daughter Kate, which ended with a question that “implied a creator or something like that.” (The question was actually “Was an ID involved?”)

Subsequently there was a meeting with Freshwater, Maley, Cunningham, Adkins, and Weston in which Freshwater was issued firm instructions to cease. Later in cross examination she was more specific, after having Maley’s letter to Freshwater following the meeting offered in evidence. She said that Freshwater was instructed not to teach ID (e.g., the handouts); was questioned about the source(s) and couldn’t provide any and was told not to use unsourced material; the Board’s 2003 decision of Freshwater’s proposal was reiterated; and Freshwater was instructed that he should stick to the curriculum and standards. This was the letter to which Freshwater responded with a letter and lesson plan in which the terms “irreducible complexity,” “specified complexity,” and “peppered moths” were used (see here).

Weston testified that Freshwater was unwilling to talk with other science teachers about science “because he was so set in his conception of science.” She testified that the District offered a voluntary professional development workshop for teachers in the fall of 2003, after Freshwater’s proposal was rejected by the Board of Education, but Freshwater didn’t attend it. (I don’t know if Lori Miller attended it.)

Weston testified that Freshwater has “ways of being underhanded.” Asked what that means, she pointed to his use of handouts contrary to the curriculum and having students turn them in at the end of class, and to his critique of the textbook when it doesn’t correspond to his “philosophy.” She said “If you have a great deal of influence with students and you teach material contrary to the curriculum you can harm students.”

Shown the photos of the burned arm taken by Zachary Dennis’ mother, Weston testified that she would have investigated by interviewing the parents and teacher, and may have called Children’s Services. However, she testified that Superintendent Short told her the Dennis’ didn’t want it reported, and she agreed with that judgment. Pressed hard on why the injury wasn’t reported, she finally conceded it should have been reported.

Asked if a letter from Elle Button (Kate’s mother and 8th grade science teacher) was her only documentation of complaints about Freshwater, Weston replied there was other documentation in the file that had been turned over under subpoena.

Asked again what did she do about the complaints, she repeated that she talked with Maley as her reporting route. Asked what happened, she testified that Maley told her he had a conversation with Principal Koons Kuntz.

Weston was asked about email received from outside the community during the 2003 consideration of Freshwater’s proposal to the Board. She said there was a great deal of it. Under questioning she described one email from a teacher elsewhere that she passed on to Dick Cunningham, who answered it, saying that Freshwater was not required to teach just one interpretation of evolutionary processes, provided they have a basis in science.” (That’s a pretty close quotation.) In response, the emailer, a Mr. Donaldson (I think), responded that the email campaign was organized by a church. She also mentioned that a “threatening letter” was received at that time from Don Matolyak, Freshwater’s pastor.

Because Cunningham and Adkins had referred to the National Science Teachers Association’s statement on the teaching of evolution in connection with their evalution of Freshwater’s handout, there was a long series of questions about whether there was any conflict between that statement and the State standards, whether the Board had officially adopted the NSTA statement, and so on. Mainly this line of questioning established for me that Hamilton is trying make out that his client is an unprofessional and ignorant science teacher.

Weston testified that before the State standards were adopted, the guidelines of national organizations were used as the basis for local curricula, and that the state standards more or less embodied those guidelines.

Citing a memo from her to the HR OnCall investigators which identified a series of pages in the Academic Content Standards for their attention, we heard a loooong series of questions on whether by directing their attention to those specific pages she meant to exclude a standard on ‘bias’ in scientific research that wasn’t specifically named in her memo. In the aggregate, her testimony in response to the series of questions was to the effect that she wasn’t excluding anything but was identifying some areas of concern.

Asked where she heard about Freshwater’s students’ use of “here” to identify subjects where Freshwater thought the text was in error, she couldn’t remember specifically but thought perhaps Debra Strouse was the source. (Strouse’s testimony is here.)

There was an inconclusive series of questions about Weston’s characterization of Freshwater’s church as “fundamentalist.” I saw no content here, just pecking away at the witness over semantic nitpicking.

Weston was asked if training was provided for teachers on the Establishment Clause,on the Board’s policies on religion in the classroom and controversial issues, or on Board policies in general, and she replied in the negative to all. (Recall that she earlier testified that the board had provided one such workshop in 2003.)

Referring to an evaluation of Freshwater by Principal Koons Kuntz in January 2003, Hamilton noted that it included the phrase “Continue to adhere to policy concerning religion in the classroom.” He asked Weston if that indicated there was a deficiency in that respect, and she said there had been. Hamilton then noted that the same phrase – “Continue to …” – was used several times with respect to different things, and asked if there deficiencies there as well. She replied that the religion deficiency was established by the prior events that year.

Hamilton then read from an evaluation of Weston’s job performance evaluation, noting that it also used the “Continue to …” phrase, but included a qualifier indicating what specifically she should focus on to improve performance. Freshwater’s evaluation didn’t have such a qualifier. Weston pointed out that Freshwater’s evaluation had the Board’s policy on religion in the classroom attached to it, indicating the area that needed attention.

We then wandered into a deep thicket of questions regarding whether it was permissible to teach “beyond the standards.” It netted out that yes, they could, but they have to be consistent with the curriculum, and that teachers have broad latitude in using supplementary materials.

One line of questioning dealt with Andrew Thompson, another plainly religious teacher who spoke publicly to the same Board of Education meeting at which Lori Miller spoke. Weston, growing emotional, agreed that she had spoken to Thompson after the meeting. She said she’s known him since he was in third grade, wanted him to continue teaching (he was questioning then whether he could), and told him he was courageous to speak publicly. Asked if she had said that teachers should have obtained permission to speak publicly before the Board, she denied it.

Asked if she knew that Kathy Kasler, the high school principal, had requested that her daughter not be in Freshwater’s class, she replied that she did. Asked if other parents had made the same request she replied that she didn’t know since those requests did not come to her.

Hamilton asked if Freshwater’s proposal in 2003 was to “critically analyze evolution.” She replied it was to teach intelligent design. Asked if the actual words of the proposal were “critically analyze evolution,” she agreed. Asked if the only reference to intelligent design was some resource materials Freshwater offered, she agreed. (One nice bit of material Freshwater brought to the Board meeting in 2003 was Jonathan Wells’ “Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution.”)

Asked if she would agree now that meant that he wasn’t intending to teach ID, she replied that she believed he did intend to teach ID. Asked if Freshwater had claimed there was no religious content, only ID, she replied yes.

Linda Weston Cross Examination

David Millstone, the Board’s attorney, first questioned Weston about the age appropriate construction of the curriculum, with the material and approaches scaled to the students’ level of intellectual development at various ages.

He then moved to the letter from Jeff Maley to Freshwater after the meeting involving Freshwater, Weston, Cunningham, Adkins, and Maley, and Freshwater’s letter in response enclosing his lesson plan, which included the mentions of “irreducible complexity”, etc. along with the state benchmarks the various days’ lessons were supposed to address. I wasn’t able to check what standards were actually referenced, but there are no 8th grade state science standards that are addressed by irreducible complexity or specified complexity. They’re purely intelligent design concepts.

Linda Weston Redirect

On redirect Hamilton asked the source for her statement that “critical analysis of evolution” was a code phrase for “ID.” She replied that is what science teachers told her.

There was no redirect.

Again, I’ve tried to construct a reasonably coherent narrative from the scattered questions and answers. One problem is that Weston is an ex-teacher and, like most of the other teachers who have testified, she wanted to explain things rather than just answer the questions. As a result, damn near every answer generated multiple rabbit trails to run down, and Hamilton apparently can’t resist a rabbit trail. So the testimony was long, disjointed, often aimless, and very hard to report coherently. I took 22 pages of mostly single-spaced notes on her testimony and still missed some stuff.

Day 17, Jeff Cline Direct Examination

Jeff Cline is a local businessman and has been publicly associated with “Coach” David Daubenmire’s Minutemen United (whose web site seems to be defunct). Recall that Daubenmire was Freshwater’s de facto spokesman early in this affair, though more recently he has been pushed to the sidelines as Freshwater acquired a new set of advisers listed here.

Cline testified that he has been a frequent speaker at Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings at the Mt. Vernon high school and middle school and at the neighboring East Knox schools. In his testimony he said that he has attended approximately 100 FCA meetings in the last 4 to 6 years, and has spoken at perhaps 20 meetings in that time.

Hamilton introduced an affidavit from Cline, though I’ve not yet read it. The questioning centered on that affidavit.

Cline testified that Zach Dennis called him to arrange that he speak at FCA, and that Freshwater has not called him to arrange for him to speak.

[Added in edit 1300 EDT, 4/1: I made a mistake above. There is apparently an FCA Speaker Request form purportedly signed by Zach to indicate that he called Cline but which he denies filling out and which is claimed to not be in his handwriting. Rechecking my raw notes, I see I have “Form says Zach called, Cline says he didn’t call.” In writing my summary I conflated the form and Cline to produce the error. Two other people who were at the hearing also say that Cline said “No” when asked if Zach called him to arrange for him to speak at FCA.]

Cline testified that he prays at FCA meetings, but that Freshwater has not done so in his presence. Asked if he has prayed with Freshwater, Cline said he has, but not at FCA meetings.

Referring to a rally in support of Freshwater on the public square in Mt. Vernon on April 16, 2008, Cline testified that he helped organize it to raise a “public outcry for my Christian brother,” and that he made arrangements for the media (several TV stations) to be present, not Freshwater. He testified that Freshwater was not aware that the media would be present at the rally. He testified that he didn’t think Freshwater would have attended the rally had he known the media were going to be there.

Cline testified that Freshwater was fearful that “they” were going to take his Bible from his desk, and that Freshwater looked “terrible” at the rally.

Asked if Freshwater wrote the statement that he gave at the rally, Cline didn’t know.

Hamilton asked Cline why Freshwater carries a paperback Bible with him. Cline replied that Freshwater is a very devout Christian, and that he shared it with other people. “That’s his whole life,” Cline said.

Jeff Cline Cross Examination

Millstone asked who Cline talked with about FCA outside of meetings. Cline identified pastors, youth pastors, and coaches. Asked what they talked about, he said things like the turnout, the response of kids, and so on. Asked if they talked about the content of their talks at FCA, Cline said no.

Asked how speakers were scheduled at the middle school FCA meetings, Cline replied that students called them.

Asked if Freshwater had indicated to Cline that he (Freshwater) had written the statement he gave at the April 16 rally, Cline didn’t know.

There was no redirect. The hearing was adjourned for the day because of the unavailability of further witnesses.

The next hearing dates are April 2 and 3. There are apparently no dates in May on which everyone concerned can meet at the same time, and the lawyers are now juggling June dates. We are going to be in that room until the snow flies next winter!

Apropos of that, the Mt. Vernon News had a print editorial this past Monday excoriating the hearing referee for permitting the wide-ranging and often nit-picky and rabbit-chasing (my gloss) questioning by Hamilton, thereby contributing to the length and cost of the hearing. I say “by Hamilton” because all three examples used by the editorial were from Hamilton’s questioning. Unfortunately the editorial is not online.

That’s a pretty good indicator of the mood of a fair number of people in the community–the News’ editorial page tends to be a follower, not a leader.

And with respect to materials available for briefing teachers on the relevant law, a poster on Secular Cafe called my attention to two documents, one from the U.S. Department of Education here and the other endorsed by a broad range of organizations, secular and religious, here. ‘Course, that one is signed by the ACLU (along with a number of religious organizations, I might add), which makes many folks around here deeply suspicious.