21 Oct 2010

Ex-superintendent: Science teacher should have avoided religion



MOUNT VERNON, OHIO -- If teachers are asked about evolution in science class, they should "stick with the science," a retired Mount Vernon school superintendent testified today during the termination hearing of John Freshwater.

Freshwater is accused of teaching creationism and intelligent design in his ninth-grade science class.

Jeff Maley, who was called to testify by Freshwater's lawyer, said he'd expect a teacher to give a thoughtful but limited response and advise the student to instead to seek out parents for details.

"I really believe that the religious beliefs of children should be impacted by their families," said Maley, who retired in 2007 after nearly a decade with the district.

The Mount Vernon school board last year voted to fire Freshwater, a 21-year veteran of the district, for persistently teaching religion in the classroom and refusing to remove religious displays, including his personal Bible.

Before a firing can happen, however, Freshwater is entitled under state law to an administrative hearing to defend himself.

Maley, whose 25-year-old son was a student in Freshwater's science class, defended the teacher as gifted at "conveying information to children."

But Freshwater's inability to separate his personal beliefs from his classroom instruction prompted complaints and an eventual standoff with the district.

"I believe that John, Mr. Freshwater, has a strong difficulty resolving his philosophical difficulties with the scientific community," Maley said. "I respect that struggle, by the way. He is very fervent about the issue of evolution being incorrect."

Freshwater also has been accused of using a hand-held electrical device used in laboratory experiments to mark a student's arm with a cross. The student's parents have filed a federal lawsuit against Freshwater and the district.

Maley, who retired before these allegations surfaced, was shown pictures of the marked arm.

"I'd be very concerned," said Maley. "I'd probably immediately investigate."

He said he would interview parents, students, take photographs and call Children Services, as required by law for cases of suspected abuse.

David Millstone, the school district's attorney, said he had no reason to cross-examine Maley.

"He testified that he believed Freshwater taught creationism and intelligent design."

Other testimony continues this afternoon.

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