Principal discusses burning allegation

Principal discusses burning allegation
Another witness at teacher's hearing describes handout against evolution
By Dean Narciso - Columbus Dispatch - 10/30/2008 - original
MOUNT VERNON, Ohio -- The principal of Mount Vernon Middle School testified yesterday that both he and the superintendent should have called police or Children Services in December after a student's family accused an eighth-grade teacher of intentionally burning the boy's arm with an electrical device.

Principal William White testified yesterday at the fourth day of a district hearing to determine whether science teacher John Freshwater should be fired.

Freshwater is accused of burning a student with the electric device, teaching religion in his science classes and failing to follow the district's orders. Freshwater says the problems stem from his refusal to remove a Bible from his desk in his classroom.

"I really was surprised. I have never seen anything like that on an arm before," White said, describing marks Freshwater is accused of burning on the arm of Zachary Dennis on Dec. 6 with an electric lab tool.

White met a few days later with Mount Vernon Superintendent Stephen Short. But neither of them contacted authorities, White said, because his main goal was to improve the morale of the school's staff.

White acknowledged that he is required by Ohio law to report cases of physical and emotional abuse to Children Services or police.

"I had very limited information," White said, describing pictures of the marked arm and allegations from Zachary's parents, who didn't want to be named at the time.

"I felt that I didn't have the information that (officials) would require."

In hindsight, he said, he would have done more "from day one."

Also yesterday, a former student described movies debunking evolution that he saw in Freshwater's science class, handouts about creationism that were not to be taken home and an "uncomfortable" classroom setting.

James Hoeffgen, now a senior at Mount Vernon High School, said being Jewish in Freshwater's class made him "uncomfortable with what I was learning -- things based on Christianity."

Hoeffgen described a class handout: Survival of the Fakest, which had to be turned in at the end of class. Hoeffgen kept his and showed it to his parents.

"They were pretty upset," he said. "They were pretty upset I was being taught this."

He also described a movie by a "renowned scientist" which estimated Earth to be thousands of years old, called carbon dating inaccurate and claimed the existence of the Loch Ness monster.

In other testimony White said Freshwater told him that he often used the electrostatic device on himself first, but "it had to be in the shape of a cross on his arm."

Freshwater has testified that he used the device on more than 600 students in his 21 years of teaching here. On Tuesday, he testified that he took the device home with him and has not returned it.