MOUNT VERNON — Former Mount Vernon City School superintendent R. Jeff Maley was the first witness called when the contract termination hearing of John Freshwater resumed Wednesday.
Answering questions by Freshwater’s lawyer, Kelly Hamilton, Maley said he could recall three complaints about Freshwater’s use of inappropriate material in his science classroom. One concerned intelligent design, another was a parent complaint of religious material in the classroom and the third dealt with the worksheet titled “Darwin’s Theory of Evolution — the Premise and Problem.”
Regarding the worksheet, Maley said he wrote a letter to Freshwater advising him not to use unsourced supplemental materials, that is, material where the origin of the subject matter presented could not be verified. He said he didn’t address specifically the issue of the content of the material, because the source was the main issue. Content would have been addressed if the source had been identified.
Hamilton had Maley review lesson plans submitted by Freshwater, and went into detail about content standards and benchmarks as they relate to lesson plans. Maley also described what he considered to be appropriate supplemental materials, saying they are required to support the board-approved curriculum and to relate to content standards.
Asked to look at the photos of an alleged injury to a student’s arm caused by Freshwater and to comment as to what actions he would take, Maley said he would be very concerned and would investigate the matter. He said circumstances would dictate what exactly would be done, and commented that the current administration, in his opinion, responded in the way it deemed to be appropriate.
Maley testified he had no first-hand knowledge that Freshwater talked about religion in class, but that he viewed Freshwater as a faithful person who pretty much lived his faith. Maley also said that in his opinion, religious references are not allowed in a public school science classroom. He said the simple act of having such items there is to influence the students. He added that the religious beliefs of children should be influenced instead by their families, that teachers have the responsibility to know board policy on such subjects and that the teacher is responsible for what he or she is doing in the classroom.
There was no cross-examination by Millstone.
Lori Miller, seventh-grade math teacher at Mount Vernon Middle School, was the second witness of the day. She testified as to Bibles on other teachers’ desks, including her own, and said she had never seen Freshwater read from his Bible when students were present. Miller also showed examples of religious items she had had on her bulletin board, subsequently taken down upon the direction of superintendent Steve Short. Miller said she told Short she would remove the displayed items, but would not remove the Bible from her desk. She said Short did not ask her to remove the Bible.
Miller said another teacher still has what Miller considers to be a more obvious religious display in his room, and said she asked Short as to why that person did not have to remove those items.
Regarding the report generated by the investigating firm HR on Call, Miller said she could not believe how prejudicial and biased it was. She said Freshwater is an “amazing” teacher and the report did not reflect that. Miller also said she felt she should have been interviewed by the investigator for three reasons: She used a Tesla coil when she taught science, kept a Bible on her desk and was at one time connected with the middle school Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Miller specified how she used the Tesla coil, and said she would zap students who volunteered. She said she never had any complaints from students about being harmed with the device; many, in fact, asked her to bring it out as often as she could.
Although she read the Bible and prayed with the students, Miller said she received no complaints. The only thing she could recall was a parent’s complaint about praise and worship music she had been playing. She subsequently stopped playing it while students were present.
Millstone’s cross-examination of Miller was brief, pending his perusal of audiotapes submitted into evidence by Hamilton. The tapes are apparently recordings of Miller’s conversations with Short and other school representatives.
Miller’s cross-examination and redirect examination concluded this morning. Next to testify is Lynda Weston, former director of teaching and learning.