MOUNT VERNON — Suspended Mount Vernon Middle School science teacher John Freshwater continues to receive information and personal belongings from his former classroom from an anonymous source.
Freshwater addressed the latest phone call and subsequent acquisition of his old computer bag and other personal items at the Mount Vernon City School Board of Education meeting Monday night.
“Last week, another anonymous delivery was made that contained approximately 300 photographs of items that were in my room,” Freshwater said. “Additionally, the anonymous delivery sent a black bag that contained many of my personal items, including about $40. … [It] was the same bag I used in 2003 to keep all of my materials related to the curriculum proposal I had made back in 2003.”
He said the bag, and its contents, were removed from his classroom and stored in the “rat hole,” an open area by the back stairs at the middle school.
“Teachers’ testimony revealed the contents of my room stayed for some time in the ‘rat hole,’ with open access to anybody who could take things or put things into the area,” he said.
According to a report filed Thursday with the Mount Vernon Police Department, Freshwater told his pastor, Don Matolyak, he received an anonymous voice mail directing him to “more information — materials for John. They would be found in a plastic bag by a garbage can at the corner of Mount Vernon Avenue and Division Street.”
Because Freshwater was out of town, Matolyak, along with Charles Fisher, went to the parking lot on Feb. 2, and found a plastic bag sitting next to the trash can.
“Inside the plastic bag was an old black computer bag. In the bag were papers approximately 3 to 4 inches high. On top of the bag was a short letter on white copy paper addressed to John. It was obvious that the contents of the bag were papers from John’s room and also there were a large number of copies of photographs of items from John’s room,” the report stated.
Although the letter was not part of the police report, it was provided to the News through Matolyak, who made copies. The letter, addressed to Freshwater said, “Hope the other stuff helped. There are at least two of us that know about how your things were kept at the MS and Central Office. Only recently was your stuff moved. An attorney said this black bag should be returned so here it is with about 300 pictures from two boxes. A blown-whistle law would give protection but need more time. Able to help again soon and gurantee [sic] help before trial. Please understand. Keep your faith. They don’t want the truth.”
Matolyak told the News Monday night that he and Fisher picked up the bag from the location provided in the voice mail message. The two men went through the contents at the Trinity Assembly of God church, while speaking to Freshwater over the phone. After reviewing the materials, the two men placed the bag in a cardboard box, taped it up and locked it up for the night, Matolyak said.
The police report states Hamilton and Freshwater went through the bag together the next day, Wednesday, Feb. 3.
“Kelly carefully examined them and asked John if he could identify these items as being his. He could except he noted that the 300 copies of photos were new to him, but were items they showed were familiar to John. Most were photos of items he had used in teaching,” Matolyak said in his statement.
His statement explained that Hamilton and Freshwater reviewed the information for nearly one hour and 45 minutes before the trio visited the area in which the bag was located. Upon returning to the church, Fisher showed the time-stamped photos he took the night the bag was located.
“It was at this time that Kelly explained to us that we may need to make a police report. He was going to take the items back to his office to review more closely. He would then be in touch to give more instructions on what we would need to do,” Matolyak stated in his notes.
At 3:36 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 4, Matolyak filed a report with the MVPD and turned over the contents of the bag.
In his statement to the board of education, Freshwater said he and school superintendent Steve Short received information on Jan. 11 from an anonymous source; the information included five photographs.
“The pictures contained images of items that exonerate some of the charges against me,” Freshwater said.
Also in that anonymous communication were notes from April 22, 2003, provided to Freshwater by Lynda Weston regarding a curriculum committee meeting.
“There is so much more you need to know. For now keep these pictures and copies of things you might remember and this note sent to Steve Short. This is not how this situation was suppose to go and there’s alot of regret,” the initial communication with Freshwater stated.
The letter to Short, also dated Jan. 11, stated, “Understand it will be revealed what I know if you do not stop this framing of John Freshwater as a bad man. I cannot understand the lies and deceit that have been done and now is the time to stand up for what’s right. There is proof where these pictures and copies were taken. ... You cannot be trusted alone with these pictures so I am sending this letter and thes [sic] pictures to others to.”
Tuesday morning, board attorney David Millstone said he was not at Monday’s school board meeting, but he did talk about materials from Freshwater’s classroom.
Millstone contradicted Freshwater’s claim that the board and Superintendent Short have been keeping material “hidden” and inaccessible to Freshwater and his attorney. Although there is no legal requirement — with regard to termination hearings individuals may be subpoenaed to testify, but there is no “discovery” phase with regard to materials — he said that whatever materials the board and Short had from the classroom have been made available to Freshwater, and Freshwater and his attorney have gone through that material.
“When Mr. Freshwater left school,” Millstone said, “he left his classroom. He left his Bible and a lot of other things. During the summer he went back into his classroom, we know at least once. We do not know if he took anything from the room or if he did not take anything from the room. In August when the other teacher needed the classroom, the board had the material boxed up and sent to Central Office. [Personal items, such as the Bible, were returned to Freshwater.] It was first locked up in an unused office, then moved to a locked storage room. Anything else that may appear has not been in the board’s possession.”
Previously, Freshwater stated he had taken things from the classroom to Trinity Assembly to copy, then returned them to the classroom.
“Strangely, materials that are apparently missing are things he [Freshwater] took to the church,” Millstone said. “We [the school board and Millstone] have never seen them.