MOUNT VERNON — Fellow teachers and other school staff members testified Friday in the contract termination hearing of suspended Mount Vernon Middle School science teacher John Freshwater.
Tammy Henry, an eighth-grade English teacher on Freshwater’s teaching team, said she had students make daily entries in their journals about each class they had the previous day. Henry said none of those entries contained any complaints about Freshwater or comments on discussions in his class about religion, intelligent design or creationism. She said she was confident that students felt comfortable enough with her to write of concerns they might have had, because, she said, “They’d talk to me about Freshwater, who was very popular with them, and also wrote about it [Freshwater’s class].”
Henry told Freshwater’s attorney, Kelly Hamilton, that she was upset that no one on Freshwater’s teaching team had been interviewed by the investigators with HR on Call, and was “disappointed” that no one talked to her about allegations published in the News. She expressed shock at what was printed.
Henry said she was very suspicious about the investigator because the team worked closely with Freshwater and saw his worksheets, lesson plans and other instructional materials, and team members were not interviewed. In Henry’s opinion, the investigation was “an inquisition.”
“A subjective, one-sided investigation. ... They had a goal in mind,” she said.
Hamilton then asked Henry about the school board’s policies on religion and controversial issues, the purpose of lesson plans, whether she ever saw Freshwater use the Tesla coil, and about teaching beyond the Ohio Academic Standards. Hamilton also asked about Bibles on desks and religious displays in other classrooms and offices in the school district.
The same topics were explored with other teacher witnesses: Brian Cook, eighth-grade history; James Marth, elementary math, previously middle school math; Sarah Malone, seventh-grade history; John Frye, high school physical science teacher and Dean of Students; Brian Gastin, high school English; Steven Farmer, 10th-grade science, formerly eighth-grade science; Donald Newcomer, previously sixth-grade science; and Scott Dapprich, high school health and physical education. Also taking the stand were Ben Sanders, middle school guidance counselor; Ken Wiles, middle school technology leader; and David Carter, high school guidance counselor.
Henry, Frye, Gastin, Sanders, Newcomer and Carter have children who were students in Freshwater’s class when they were in eighth-grade; Malone and Sanders have children who participated in the middle school Fellowship of Christian Athletes activities. All said their children admired Freshwater and relayed no complaints about their interactions with him.
Each witness testified he or she had never seen Freshwater read, teach or preach from his Bible when students were present, and said it was permissible to teach beyond particular grade-level standards if it was part of the approved curriculum.
Several of the witnesses, upon Hamilton’s request, brought items from their classrooms or offices to the hearing. Those items included a poster of ten commandments of Native Americans; a personal Bible; posters with the George Bush cabinet in prayer; two or three with a Bible verse and another with the verse deleted; a plaque showing Jesus knocking on a door; a sculpture of a cross; and two other items pertaining to Bible verses. Although Hamilton did not specifically state in the hearing why those items had been requested, testimony from the witnesses indicated the items were sources of personal inspiration to them.
It is expected that additional Mount Vernon school district employees will testify when the hearing reconvenes at 11 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 20.