MOUNT VERNON — As the contract termination hearing for John Freshwater continued Thursday, former Mount Vernon Middle School assistant, then interim, principal Tim Keib was back on the witness stand.
Referring to Wednesday’s testimony that Freshwater was an excellent teacher, he said he believes “kids are missing out because John is not teaching.” He further testified that he never saw Freshwater try to push his faith or philosophies on students, did not observe Freshwater reading his Bible while students were present and, to his knowledge, never heard Freshwater denigrate or promote any particular religion. He said that by his definition Freshwater is not a “religious man,” but understands that other people could find Freshwater religious by their standards.
Keib talked about investigating concerns raised about Freshwater teaching creationism and not teaching the Ohio science standards.
“There’s a big difference between citing concerns and having evidence,” Keib said. He added he discovered no evidence to support those concerns, even after talking with several students.
“The kids never said ‘I learned this [creationism] in Mr. Freshwater’s class,’” Keib said.
Former middle school principal Jeff Kuntz was another witness on Thursday. He answered questions about 12 observation reports and evaluation summaries he completed on Freshwater over the years and explained the use of the term “continue” in evaluation reports.
“I never had any doubts about John Freshwater’s competence to teach eighth-grade science,” Kuntz said. “His classes were always interesting and he used a variety of teaching methods within each lesson.”
Kuntz said he did speak with Freshwater about complaints made by high school science teachers that they had to reteach material to students from Freshwater’s class and about a parent’s complaint about a certain handout. He said he encouraged Freshwater to “stick with board-approved materials,” and gave him a copy of the board’s policy on religion in the classroom. Upon cross-examination, Kuntz also said he had, at least twice, given Freshwater a handout with guidelines for Fellowship of Christian Athletes monitors.
Kerri Mahan, who testified nearly a year ago on Oct. 31, 2008, returned to the stand to elaborate on her statements made at that time. Mahan, who team-taught with Freshwater, said he was an “awesome” teacher with good rapport with the students. She said she is the individual who e-mailed Freshwater the “Watchmaker” video, and said she wasn’t sure whether he showed it in a science class or FCA leadership meeting. She also stated she never saw Freshwater use a Tesla coil with students.
Mahan said Freshwater did teach evolution in class, as evidenced by his students’ scores on the eighth-grade Ohio Achievement Test which includes evolution questions. She also said she never heard Freshwater use the words “intelligent design” in class, but on cross- examination admitted Freshwater did use the phrase “I.D.” on more than one occasion. She said Freshwater used supplemental handouts to get students to think about the difference between science theory and fact, and, to illustrate the scientific method of proving or disproving an hypothesis.
Concerning a “debate” about creationism and evolution, Mahan said the students initiated the topic and shared their ideas with each other, with Freshwater stepping in only to maintain order and courtesy in the discussion. She said such debates are commonly used to get students to develop higher levels of thinking, and that Freshwater did not give the students his views on the subject.
Without elaborating, Mahan said Freshwater stopped performing science experiments in class after December 2007, although he previously did a lot of experiments.
Additional witnesses on Thursday included Darcy Miller and Maj. Robert Bender of The Salvation Army, both of whom were featured speakers at middle school Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings. Each said students invited them to speak and stated Freshwater did not participate in the meetings.
The hearing resumed today in the commissioners chambers in the Knox County Service Center. Additional dates are scheduled for Nov. 17, 18 and 19.