Monday, January 19, 2009

Days 11, 12 & 13 of the John Freshwater Inquisition

Righting First Amendment Wrongs

This post is a summary of this week's contract hearing of John Freshwater. The YouTube video by MountVernon1805 gives a glimpse of the physical surroundings of where the case is being held and a peek at Mr. Freshwater and his attorney, Kelly Hamilton.

Cameras barred from Freshwater hearing

The John Freshwater contract hearing resumed this past Wednesday and continued through Friday of this week. See my previous
articles and comments regarding this case, including the first ten days of the hearing, which were held last October and restarted earlier this month. The hearing was expected to conclude this week. However, it was not completed and will resume on February 20th at 11:00 AM in Mount Vernon.

We had some frigid weather here in Ohio this past week, but the hearings resumed. One day the hearing was delayed because the Referee had a flat tire (Wednesday) and because Mr. Freshwater’s attorney was tied up in court (Thursday). I had a chance to attend part of the hearing on Friday after my eye doctor’s appointment. I will base my summary from newspaper and blog accounts of Wednesday and Thursday and the first part of Friday and then I will give a first hand account of what transpired late morning through the afternoon session on Friday.

DAY 11

John Freshwater’s 15-year old daughter, Jordan, testified on Wednesday. She said, ““I know a lot of truth and I think it should be share,” when asked why she or other Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) students should have been asked by the school board appointed Investigator. Pamela Schehl, Mount Vernon News reporter, who covered the hearing, wrote “Jordan described her father as an ‘out-of-the-box’ person and teacher who likes adventures and makes things fun. She said he is involved in a lot of things in the community, and that former students often approach him in the community and thank him and say, “I love science” because of being in Freshwater’s class.”

Two teachers were called upon to testify. Dino D’Ettorre was asked about the Tesla coil. Schehl reported in part, “(D’Ettorre) said he would demonstrate it on his own arm as an example and talk with students about safety factors such as making sure the power level was on low. If student volunteers so desired, D’Ettorre said, he would touch the arc to their arms, never the device itself. He also said he told students it may or may not leave a mark on their skin, but any mark would not be permanent or stay long.” This testimony seems to contradict the claim by Zach Dennis, the student who was allegedly “branded” by Freshwater.

Eighth grade Special Ed and Reading teacher Barb Spitzer, according to Pam Schehl made the following assertion, “She testified that she at one time was in Freshwater’s class every day and never heard him discuss religion in class or read the Bible with students present.” In regard to Freshwater’s teaching style and approach to work Spitzer said that he “Was hands-on and student oriented,. . . highly ambitious and always willing to do more than what is required, and willing to modify assignments and lessons, if need be, to help students understand them.”

DAY 12

The entire day was devoted to testimony of Deborah Strouse, she was the monitor assigned by the school board superintendent to Mr. Freshwater during his last six weeks of the 2007-2008 school year. Mr. Freshwater’s attorney took a chance when he had her testify.

MountVernon1805 posted an excellent summary of the day 12 on the AccountabilityInTheMedia blog (see “
Inside John Freshwater’s Classroom.”) The writer made this unusual, but telling statement, “Strouse’s testimony at Thursday’s hearing sounded like she was endorsing Freshwater for teacher-of-the-year.” Furthermore, the blog writer concluded, “Strouse said that as a teacher, she was jealous of Freshwater. He made every person feel important. He was able to connect a science concept to the things the students would bring up in class. Strouse said that students will work harder if they know the teacher believes in them.”

DAY 13

It was Friday, day 13, of this long, drawn-out hearing. I missed the morning session by just a few minutes. A deputy met me in the office outside of the hearing room and said that I had to wait until there was a break. The referee did not want the hearing interrupted. I had time to eat breakfast at the local Bob Evans Restaurant and to read several chapters of Chuck Norris’ book, Black Belt Patriotism, How to Reawaken America. Ironically, on page 94 of Norris’ book he wrote,

“If America’s founding fathers had no problem with the Bible being taught in taxpayer-supported schools, why do we? The Bible is the most influential book in Western civilization. It is the most important book undergirding American law and literature. To prohibit it from our nation’s classrooms is a blatant and biased withholding of proper public instruction.

“It is time for every parent, teacher, and school district to answer in the affirmative the question of Fisher Ames, who assisted in the creation of the First Amendment. . .: ‘Should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a school book?'

“Our Founding Fathers would respond with a resounding yes.”

That is what much of this case is about. First, the right of a teacher to have his personal Bible on his desk, second to be able to display posters that might have an inspirational Bible verse on it, and the right or freedom to teach that evolution has weaknesses and there are alternate explanations to origin of life other than evolution. These explanations are just as scientific or just as logical as that deeply flawed theory of evolution.


When the referee administered the oath to each witness before his or her testimony, he said to the affect, "Do you swear or affirm that the testimony you will provide is true?" Something was missing . . . Each time I heard that oath being administered I wanted to shout, ". . . So help me God." That same something has been missing from our schools as well as our courtrooms for quite some time. That is truly shameful.

There were 12 witnesses who took the stand on Friday. Three of them were in the first session, which I did not attend. Ten others were questioned between 11:30 AM and 4:00 PM. I did hear these testimonies. Most of the witnesses were current teachers or counselors in the Mount Vernon City Middle School or High School.

For most of the witnesses Mr. Freshwater’s attorney had the same line of questioning. These included:

· Where you interviewed by the Investigator, HR on-call?
· Are you aware of the school’s policy on religion?
· Have you received any training in ‘religion in the classroom’ from the school?
· How do you handle a question if it comes up in class regarding the meaning of Easter or Good Friday?
· Have you seen Bibles on the desks of teachers at Mount Vernon City Schools?
· Have you seen the George Bush – Colin Powell Poster with a scripture verse in any classroom? What other ‘religious’ articles have you observed?
· Do you have to submit lesson plans? If so, what is the purpose of these plans?
· Do you have any knowledge regarding the Tesla coil?
· What teaching aids do you use in class? Are there any restrictions in their use?

My observations and conclusions include the fact that many of the teachers, who had first had knowledge of John Freshwater, who may have been supportive or at least objective about his situation, where not included in interviews by the Investigator, HR On-Call. Most of the teachers did not have or could not remember having training in ‘religion in the classroom’ and were not aware of specific school policies. There were and still are Bibles and ‘religious objects’ in the classrooms of some of the Mount Vernon City Schools. Lesson plans are used by teachers and administrators to see if teachers are staying on track. The Tesla coil has been used widely by science teachers in Mount Vernon City Schools as a basic teaching tool without any apparent problems or safety concerns. Little or no training in the proper use of the Tesla coil was received. Teachers are given wide flexibility as to what to teach, how to teach and what outside resources that they can use.

Overall, I did not observe any testimony that could be considered damaging to Mr. Freshwater’s case. In fact, most of the testimony supported Mr. Freshwater.


Mount Vernon News Articles: Day 11, Day 12, Day 13
Columbus Dispatch Articles: Day 11, Day 12, Day 13
Support Freshwater website:
AccountabilityInTheMedia blog:
Panda's Thumb blog:


  1. Anonymous8:58 AM

    Here is an earlier student who testified and supported the Zach Dennis claim.

    "As noted, Simon is a junior at Mt. Vernon high school and had Freshwater for 8th grade science in 2005-2006. He testified that Freshwater also burned his arm with a cross using the Tesla coil but that he didn’t report it to his parents. He said that the mark was visible for two or three weeks."

    I read this on the link you provided to Pandas Thumb.

  2. Anonymous9:17 AM

    You said:
    Eighth grade Special Ed and Reading teacher Barb Spitzer, according to Pam Schehl made the following assertion, “She testified that she at one time was in Freshwater’s class every day and never heard him discuss religion in class or read the Bible with students present.”

    You forgot the rest of the article which appeared in the Mt Vernon News on Jan 15th.
    "Millstone had only two follow-up questions, which related to when Spitzer worked in Freshwater's class MANY YEARS ago,..."

    Pandas Thumb clears this up:
    Barbara Spitzer Cross Examination

    Millstone asked the last time Spitzer was in Freshwater’s classroom when he was teaching. She replied 1981-82. That generated some discussion, since Freshwater wasn’t teaching in the system then. She finally decided it was early in his tenure in Mt. Vernon.

  3. Anonymous9:26 AM

    Were you there when they demonstrated the Tesla Coil and it caught paper on fire in only a couple of seconds?

  4. Anonymous11:03 AM

    Here is a great website: