Do we still have the right to freely exercise our religion?
I was able to attend Friday's session in person.
MOUNT VERNON, OHIO The following is a summary of the activities transpiring on Thursday and Friday, March 26 and 27 at the John Freshwater contract hearing. I previously posted an article about the Wednesday coverage, which I gleaned from newspaper reports on the Internet. I have been covering this saga since last spring; you can explore my previous articles.
Reporter Pamela Schehl on MountVernonNews.com reported:
““That’s not Zach’s arm,” said Ben Nielson, former student of John Freshwater, as he testified late this afternoon in Freshwater’s contract termination hearing. Nielson said he had seen Zach Dennis’s arm the day after he was supposedly injured by Freshwater, and further stated the newspaper photo of the alleged injury did not match what he had seen in the flesh.
“Nielson said he had also volunteered for the Tesla coil experiment, and that’s why he and Dennis were discussing and comparing arms.”
According to Dean Narcisco's report on the Columbus Dispatch online:
“Lynda Weston told investigators hired by the district that she had fielded complaints about Freshwater for 11 years. Weston testified that she was told about incidents over that period but she could document complaints only since about 2002.
“She said Freshwater's charisma and popularity made him a danger to students.
“"If you have a great deal of influence with students, and if what you're teaching them is not recognized science, they are going to believe you."”
I was able to attend the Friday, March 27 session. The morning session lasted around 3 hours, while the afternoon session took a short 30 minutes or less. Only one witness was interrogated during each session. As an interesting side note, there were approximately 30 people present in the hearing room and about six laptops.
The first witness was Julia Herlevi, one of the investigators and the afternoon witness was Jeff Cline, who was a friend of John Freshwater.
Kelly Hamilton, John Freshwater’s attorney was very intense in his questioning of Julia Herlevi one of the two-person investigation team. She claimed to play second fiddle to her husband, Tom, who was the primary investigator. However, some of the people she had interviewed separately were key to this case. She and her husband interviewed John Freshwater initially. There was some indication that they were supposed to interview him a second time, but they never did.
Mrs. Herlevi stated that she did the proofing and editing of the investigation report, which was paid for and presented to the School Board. It was revealing that before the report had been finalized, it was given to the School Board’s attorney, David Millstone, for “clarification” prior to finalization. She thought that maybe one paragraph might have been changed as a result, again for “clarification.”
Mrs. Herlevi did not bring any of her notes from the investigation and was relying on her, what turned out, to be a faint memory of the facts of the investigation. Both attorneys had had copies and used portions of her notes which were previously subpoenaed. This did refresh her memory somewhat. It was revealed that neither she nor her husband used any type of audio recording equipment. Apparently that was their S.O.P.
RETEACHING MR. FRESHWATER’S STUDENTS
It was odd that the investigators interviewed High School social studies teachers to see if they had had to re-teach Mr. Freshwater’s students, because of what he taught them. There was a discussion about an allegation that Mr. Freshwater had made students memorize Bible verses. Mrs. Herlevi could not substantiate them.
THE DENNIS FAMILY
Three key individuals, Zach Dennis and his parents, apparently had not yet been scheduled to testify at the hearing. The Dennis family representative, who has had a seat at the table alongside the school board superintendent and the school board’s attorney Mr. Millstone, and who records the notes on her laptop, indicated that she would try to find out if the Dennis family were available for the hearing next week.
The testimony this week revealed some conflicts in Dennis’s allegations.
During one telling point in the questioning of Mrs. Herlevi, Kelly Hamilton asked why she did not pursue finding out more details about where on Zach Dennis’s arm that he was allegedly “branded,” “burned,” or “marked.” She said that because both the Dennis and Mr. Freshwater corroborated the fact of that the marking occurred, it was unnecessary to pursue it any further. [The implication to me was that this portion of the investigation was not very thorough. It should have been because it was such a big portion of the allegations against Mr. Freshwater.] Student Ben Nielson, who testified the previous day, doubted that the Tesla coil alone could have made such a mark on Zach’s arm. Ben even questioned whether the photos provided by the Dennis family were even of Ben’s arm.
BIBLES IN THE SCHOOL
Attorney Hamilton concluded his questioning of Mrs. Herlevi with some discussion of the following excerpt from page 13 of the HR On-Call investigation report, from the summary of the investigators’ interview with Mr. Freshwater:
“During our interview on May 15, 2008 Mr. Freshwater . . . also said he has a Bible beside desk on his lab table that he checked out of the school library. When asked if the school Bible was there to make a statement, he said, “Yes.””
During the shortened afternoon session Jeff Cline testified. The questioning of Mr. Cline centered around the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) and the role of Mr. Freshwater in that group. He was the facilitator, monitor and supervisor of that extracurricular activity. Mr. Cline indicated that Mr. Freshwater had no direct leadership role in the FCA activities, in which Cline took part.
Also, there was some discussion regarding the April 16 rally on the public square for Mr. Freshwater, which Cline indicated Freshwater had no part in planning. Mr. Cline testified that Mr. Freshwater had a paperback Bible which he carried with him. The Bible, which Mr. Freshwater had on his desk was one of several Bibles owned by Mr. Freshwater. That particular Bible was kept on his desk.
During Mrs. Herlevi’s testimony, she seemed to imply that if the Bible that Mr. Freshwater kept on his desk was so personal, why didn’t he carry that one.
The referee in this case will have a great amount of testimony to sort through. I believe that Freshwater's attorney pointed out some flaws in the Investigators' report. The selection of interviewees appeared to be selective and geared to a specific outcome favoring the School Board. The investigators could have been more thorough and more objective. They should have interviewed John Freshwater a second time, the should have interviewed more students and teachers, and they did not seem to be very thorough on the location and description of the alleged "burn" or mark on Zach Dennis's arm. At this point there seems no clear cut "winner" to me.
NEXT HEARING DATES
The hearing will continue next week on Thursday, April 2nd and Friday, April 3rd. The referee indicated that he would provide the attorneys and the Dennis’ attorney with the dates in May and June for which he would be available. This case started in October of 2008.