MOUNT VERNON – How hot do Tesla coils get? Participants and spectators at the contract termination hearing for John Freshwater saw for themselves on Thursday. At the request of school board attorney David Millstone, William Oxenford, seventh-grade science teacher at Mount Vernon Middle School, demonstrated the energy generated by a device similar to the one Freshwater is alleged to have used on a student causing a painful injury.
Just a few seconds after the device was plugged in and turned on, Oxenford touched its tip to a sheet of paper resulting in flames and a hole through the paper in less than five seconds after contact.
Oxenford testified he last used a Tesla coil in his (then) eighth-grade classroom more than 10 years ago, and at that time did allow students to touch it to see how hot it could get, provided they were not grounded when they did so. He said he did not apply it to the students himself.
Oxenford said he discontinued using it in class when the curriculum changed, and would not use one today at any rate because of concerns with pacemakers and other medical devices; serious harm could result.
Oxenford also said he had apprehensions with the device because of negative publicity of law enforcement Tasers which also work off an electrical charge.
Freshwater’s attorney Kelly Hamilton questioned Oxenford as to the precautionary measures taken before it was used in the hearing room, which were determined to not be in accordance with the manufacturer’s directions. Oxenford said he had discussed safeguards with Millstone, especially with regard to pacemakers. Since Oxenford had accidentally shocked himself when demonstrating the instrument, Hamilton asked whether it would be possible for something similar to happen to a student inadvertently.
“Yes,” Oxenford replied. “That’s the way life is.”
Additional testimony by Oxenford concerned the regular monthly middle school science teacher meetings where the teachers discussed topics such as classroom materials and supplies, academic content standards and strategies for teaching those content standards.
Asked whether the teachers had any training in the standards, Oxenford said “We did as a staff. We had inservices, then worked to correlate the standards with the textbooks and wrote curriculum maps.”
Regarding the movie “Expelled,” Oxenford said the teachers had talked about it because the National Science Teachers Association had sent out a “heads up” notice about the film. He said Freshwater told him he was going to try to get it shown in Mount Vernon. Oxenford said he personally would never show it in a science class.
Hamilton asked whether it would be appropriate to assign it as extra credit, and Oxenford said he wouldn’t, and added that he doesn’t assign extra credit.
The first witness of the day was Joseph Faber, assistant professor of biology at Ohio University-Lancaster. Faber at one time served as a science consultant for the Ohio Department of Education and helped to develop Ohio’s model science curriculum in alignment with Ohio standards for grades six through eight.
Faber defined standards, benchmarks and indicators and explained how they relate to lesson plans and classroom handouts and activities. Referring directly to the eighth-grade standards upon Millstone’s request, Faber said there are no eighth-grade indicators for chemistry, the periodic table, cells or atoms, or the creation of the earth. He stated there are only two indicators which deal with evolution: One regarding the diversity of species and one referring to the extinction of species.
Asked by Hamilton to define evolution, Faber replied. “Descent with modifications.”
“Aren’t there disagreements between scientists regarding evolution?” Hamilton asked. Faber said no and explained that the evolution debate in scientific circles is about things like the tempo of evolution and the importance of different models of speciation, not about the validity of the theory of evolution.
Millstone, and Hamilton on cross-examination, asked questions specific to handouts Freshwater supposedly presented to his eighth-grade students, and Faber concluded the ones in question were not consistent with the science standards and were actually contradictory to them.
Charles Adkins, eighth-grade science teacher at MVMS, was the final witness of the day. He talked about the handout concerning Darwin’s theory, and said former superintendent Jeff Maley asked him to review it to determine whether it was appropriate for the eighth-grade science curriculum. In his opinion, the article was very slanted and very biased; did not seem to be designed to be used by itself but rather as a viewing guide to a video; and was not from a credible scientific source. He said the document appeared to originate through an organization called All About God ministries and therefore was not suitable or appropriate for a MVMS science classroom.
Both Millstone and Hamilton asked Adkins whether a teacher is permitted to teach beyond the standards, that is, to teach a standard or indicator from a higher grade level. Adkins said only if there was a professional collegial understanding with a teacher from the particular grade level.
Testimony continues today and will resume Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of next week.