Teacher's colleague zapped kids, too

Teacher's colleague zapped kids, too
By DEAN NARCISO - THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH - 1/14/2009 - original
A sixth-grade science teacher at Mount Vernon Middle School testified today that John Freshwater wasn't the only teacher who brought a Bible to class at the public school and used an electric lab tool to zap students' arms.

Freshwater is accused of burning a student with an electric lab instrument and of teaching religion in his eighth-grade science classes. The school board has said it wants to fire him, but the district must hold a hearing first under state law.

At a continuation of the hearing yesterday, sixth-grade science teacher Dino D'Ettorre, 51, testified that students had lined up in his class to feel a high-voltage, static-electricity zap from an instrument called a Tesla coil. He said he did it "to get them excited about science."

"I told the kids it may or may not leave a mark on the arm. ... Sometimes it would; sometimes it would not," D'Ettorre said. He said he'd never heard of a mark lasting for more than a few hours.

The family of one of Freshwater's students has sued the district and Freshwater, saying that the teacher burned a cross shape on their son's arm with the device. The mark was painful and lasted more than a day, they said. Freshwater says he did not burn the boy.

D'Ettorre also testified that he brings a Bible to class and that he had told as many as 60 students during school that they can reach heaven "by giving your souls to the Lord."

However, D'Ettorre said he hasn't preached in class for three years, after he attended a seminar on religion in the classroom.

D'Ettorre was the first witness called by Freshwater's attorney to defend the teacher. D'Ettorre is not facing discipline from the school district, but he said he was nervous about testifying because he is afraid he might lose his job.

Freshwater's daughter, Jordan, 15, also testified on his behalf. In tears for a few minutes of her testimony, she said classmates and friends admired her father and would yell "I love science!" when they saw him around town.

She said her father frequently used the Tesla coil on students with no harmful effects and that he and D'Ettorre had used it on her. When D'Ettorre used it on her in sixth grade, he ran it along her arm for about five seconds, she said, and "it didn't really hurt; it kind of tickled."

Freshwater once used the device on her brother's broken leg "to help stimulate it," she said.

Jordan described her father as an "out-of-the-box kind of person who likes to venture."

"He makes things different; he makes things fun and adventurous," she said.

Freshwater's attorney, R. Kelly Hamilton, has said that the school district's independent report, conducted by HR On Call, is flawed because it doesn't include testimony from Jordan Freshwater, D'Ettorre or others who can vouch for his client.