MOUNT VERNON — The contents of the mysterious black bag were entered into evidence Thursday afternoon as the contract termination hearing of suspended Mount Vernon Middle School science teacher John Freshwater continued.
The existence of the bag came to light in February when an anonymous tipster phoned Freshwater and left a message as to the location of material reportedly taken from his classroom and presumed lost or destroyed. The items were found in a plastic bag by a garbage can at the corner of Mount Vernon Avenue and Division Street and subsequently turned over to the Mount Vernon Police Department.
Freshwater’s lawyer, R. Kelly Hamilton, filed a public records request to obtain a copy of the material, and questioned Freshwater about the items for nearly three hours Thursday. In addition to about $40 in cash, the bag contained 410 pages of various documents, including student work, miscellaneous photographs, Fellowship of Christian Athletes materials, what Freshwater called “hate mail,” other e-mails, newspaper articles, Web site references, random letters from former students, students’ parents and others in the community.
Responding to questions by Hamilton, Freshwater gave the hearing officer and spectators a page-by-page review of a great portion of the information.
Many of the items dated from 2003 and related to Freshwater’s proposal to “examine the evidence both for and against evolution” in his eighth-grade science class. A wealth of research material related to the proposal was discussed, as were notes and correspondence connected to the science curriculum committee’s decision to recommend against the proposal.
Freshwater said one paper, described as a school district emergency alert plan dated 2002, informed teachers to block the classroom windows to the hallway with come sort of cover. He said that is when he placed the 10 Commandments book covers on the windows.
Several of the documents, Freshwater said, were representative of the things he used in class. Although a few were teacher-made, most of those referenced, including tests and overhead projector sheets, came from the textbook publishers. Freshwater’s testimony was expected to resume when the hearing reconvened this morning at 9.
During the morning session, the questioning of former school board member Ian Watson continued. On Wednesday, Watson testified he had applied the arc of a Tesla coil to his own forearm. He said the red mark, which lasted 10 to 15 days, was a level 3 on a pain scale of 0 to 5. Hamilton, on Thursday asked if that action on Watson’s part meant school board members should do their own investigation into allegations against teachers. Watson answered that the job of the school board is to set district policy and the responsibility for the day-to-day operations rests with the administration.
“That Tesla coil thing wasn’t one of my best moments,” said Watson.
Because school board attorney David Millstone again objected to many questions due to attorney-client privilege and executive session law, Hamilton elicited Watson’s personal opinions about whether teachers should be allowed to have Bibles on their desks and what constitutes a religious display. He asked if Watson had any conversations about Freshwater with individuals outside his official capacity as a board member and whether he had seen any video involving John Freshwater.
“On YouTube,” Watson replied to the latter.
Watson’s testimony concluded with a review of his calendar entries dating from Dec. 19, 2008, to February 2009. Hamilton asked about each entry, requesting the identities of the individuals listed and the reason for each scheduled appointment and social engagement. As each individual or occasion was mentioned, Hamilton also asked if Watson discussed the Freshwater situation at that time.
Millstone did not cross-examine Watson.