MOUNT VERNON — Following testimony by retired teacher Jim Stockdale, John Freshwater took the stand on his own behalf when his contract termination hearing resumed on Tuesday.
Freshwater said he has been waiting for the chance to “get the truth out” so the present school board, which voted to consider terminating his teaching contract, would have the opportunity to hear what he has to say.
Asked by his attorney Kelly Hamilton whether he believes some of the things in the HR on Call report are not truthful, out of context and outright lies, Freshwater said, “Yes.”
He said he was angry when the report came out because he had not had the opportunity to talk with the investigator(s) a second time, and therefore he feels the report is inaccurate and even inflammatory.
Hamilton had Freshwater go into more detail into what he would have told the investigators, including that he did not teach creationism or intelligent design, and would not teach creationism in a public school because it is based on faith and science is based on the scientific method.
“I believe in creationism,” Freshwater told Hamilton, “but school is not the right environment to teach creationism.”
Discussing other people’s perceptions of Freshwater’s faith, Hamilton asked, “Are you a religious fanatic?”
“No,” replied Freshwater.
The hearing room was subsequently reconfigured to approximate the classroom arrangement during the time Freshwater was teaching eighth-grade science at the middle school. That was done to illustrate the position of desks, equipment and students when the Tesla coil experiments were done in December 2007 — when a student was allegedly harmed with the high-voltage device.
Freshwater then did a re-creation of his teaching eighth-period that day, describing the room, the sequence of the lesson, and the experiments performed. In order to show the conditions in the classroom at the time, the lights were turned off — necessary for the students to be able to see the light generated by the Tesla coil and the colors the heat turned the various elements in vacuum tubes.
With the assistance of Hamilton, Freshwater demonstrated how one student was inadvertently touched with the tip of the Tesla coil. Freshwater said he did not intentionally touch the student, and added that in conversations with the student and his parents, they said they understood it was an accident. He also emphasized the device was always turned off between experiments.
Freshwater acted out how the various experiments were conducted, and showed how he handled the Tesla coil for each. He said he sometimes had a small red mark on his arm after many classes, but not after each time the experiments were done.
Freshwater said he would not let students touch the tip of the device because “it may mess up the (conductivity) experiment.” He also testified that in 21 years he had no complaints from a student of being hurt, in pain or harmed during the experiments, and would have stopped doing them if he thought some student had been harmed.
Asked whether it made sense to him that someone supposedly burned by a Tesla coil would put on hockey equipment, Freshwater said, “it does not make sense to me.”
At Hamilton’s request, Freshwater named other teachers he knew to have used the Tesla coil in class, listed the academic content standards related to the device and identified other electrical devices used in science classes, such as batteries, wimshurst devices and vandergraph machines.
Freshwater said he believed the Tesla coil issue had been resolved after he destroyed the device as directed by middle school principal Bill White.
White testified Friday he had not directed or authorized the device’s destruction.
To start Tuesday’s session, Stockdale was called by David Millstone, lawyer for the Mount Vernon Board of Education. He related what he observed and heard one day in Freshwater’s class as a substitute for an intervention specialist. The class was just beginning a unit on the origins of the earth, and Freshwater, Stockdale said, referenced a Time Magazine article that talked about a genetic link with homosexuality.
Stockdale said Freshwater told the students that was an example of how scientists and information in textbooks can be incorrect. Stockdale went on to say he was “in a state of disbelief” as Freshwater told the class the article is wrong because “the Bible” says homosexuality is a sin and anyone who chooses that lifestyle is a sinner. Stockdale said he felt that statement was giving the students license to continue homophobic attitudes and remarks to other students.
Hamilton asked whether Freshwater was using that article to illustrate scientific bias and Stockdale said he did not recall Freshwater ever using the term bias.
The hearing will resume Thursday at 9 a.m.