John Freshwater, a Mount Vernon Ohio teacher who was fired for proselytizing in his 8th grade science class has appealed his termination and it was announced today his appeal will be moving to Federal Court.
The board filed notice with U.S. District Court in Columbus on Tuesday to move the case to the federal court system because Freshwater’s appeal involves an allegation that his constitutional right to express a religious opinion was violated.
Freshwater was accused of preaching Christian beliefs in class and of using a scientific device to mark students’ arms with a cross. The hearing officer said there was a plausible explanation for that but didn’t explain further.
Finally it is over. By a vote of 4-1 the Mount Vernon Ohio School Board accepted the referee’s report that upheld the firing of John Freshwater, who not only burned crosses in arms of students but pushed his creationism on his classes against orders from his superiors.
From the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) website:
On January 10, 2011, the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education voted 4-1 to terminate the employment of John Freshwater. A middle school science teacher in Mount Vernon, Ohio, Freshwater was accused of inappropriate religious activity in the classroom — including displaying posters with the Ten Commandments and Bible verses, branding crosses on the arms of his students with a high-voltage electrical device, and teaching creationism. After a local family sued Freshwater and the district in 2008, the board voted to begin proceedings to terminate his employment in the district. Finally, after administrative hearings that proceeded sporadically over two years, the referee presiding over the hearings issued his recommendation that the board terminate his employment with the district.
The hearing is among the most costly and lengthy that education experts can recall. Records, however, are not kept.
Asked if the cost is worth it, officials with the Ohio School Boards Association had mixed feelings.
“It’s sad that they had to spend all that money to do what they thought was right all along,” said Rick Lewis, executive director.
The board voted unanimously in 2008 to terminate Freshwater. But under state law, teachers are entitled to an administrative hearing to defend themselves.
The process protects teachers and also discourages districts from keeping rogue teachers in less-sensitive positions.
“Allowing somebody to resign and go away and pass those problems on to another school district isn’t right, either,” Lewis said.
Asked if the system works, Holly Ready, chief legal counsel for the association, said, “I think it’s fairly clear that it’s not working in all cases. That’s a huge burden on taxpayers – we’re paying for that.”
Well it took about two years, but in a report released by a state hearing officer, he concluded that John Freshwater, a Mount Vernon Ohio teacher who was to be fired for proselytizing in his 8th grade science class should be fired.
In the report, Shepherd said Freshwater was given ample opportunity to change his content and style of teaching.
“(Freshwater) persisted in his attempts to make eighth grade science what he thought it should be – an examination of accepted scientific curriculum with the discerning eye of Christian doctrine,” Shepherd wrote. “He used his classroom as a means of sowing the seeds of doubt and confusion in the minds of impressionable students as they searched for meaning in the subject of science.”
Freshwater had for years asked the school board to consider allowing a curriculum that includes arguments against evolution. Shepherd wrote that after no changes were made, Freshwater took it upon himself to hand out Christian materials and push creationism.
Freshwater also was accused of burning crosses in the arms of some students. A lawsuit about that was settled earlier. Until I see the state hearing report I’m not sure if that child abuse was mentioned.
The next step, which I hope is the final one, is the Mount Vernon school board accepts the report and finally fires Freshwater.
I’ve been trying to get a copy of the report. The link on the page of the Dispatch article is broken so probably won’t have a copy until Monday. But the website Panda’s Thumb has more details on the report.
John Freshwater, the Mount Vernon, Ohio science teacher who was fired for burning a cross on a student’s arm and preaching his religion on school time, in 2008, settled a civil lawsuit with the parents of the victim for $450,000. He is still waiting on his appeal of his firing.
The money, to be paid by the school district’s insurance carrier, Ohio Casualty, will compensate Stephen and Jenifer Dennis for mental pain and suffering, and their son, Zachary, for physical pain and sickness.
Zachary Dennis alleges that John Freshwater pushed his Christian beliefs in science class two years ago and burned a cross on Zachary’s forearm with an electrical laboratory device.
Included in the $450,000 settlement is an annuity of $150,000, to be paid over 13years to Zachary, now enrolled in another school district. Jones Day, the law firm that represented the family, will get $25,000, which is apart from the $450,000 settlement.
The case of John Freshwater, the Mount Vernon Ohio teacher who tried to teach his religious beliefs in his 8th grade class room is still going on more than a year since the news broke. They are currently finishing up direct witness testimony for an employment hearing that has lasted 14 months and cost has cost the school district more than $500,000 in legal fees.
In the latest news, Mr. Freshwater claims not to remember discussing Lego experiment he talked about at length on a Christian radio show just this past April and his lawyer is also claiming some of the notes and handouts being used against his client may be forged.
On Friday, June 20th, the Mount Vernon Ohio school board voted 5 to 0 to terminate John Freshwater, an 8th grade science teacher, from his job. He is at the center of a dispute over his pushing of his religious beliefs on his students during school hours. See my previous post on the issue: Ohio Teacher violates 1st Amendment – Doesn’t have a clue he did
The action comes after the board considered a report from an independent investigation of Freshwater after it came to light that he had used a science experiment to burn crosses in the arm of at least two students, a dispute over having a Bible in his room, and charges he taught the religious creationism concept of Intelligent Design in his classes.
Eighth-graders who were taught by John Freshwater frequently had to be re-taught in high school what they were supposed to have learned in Freshwater’s class, according to outside investigators hired by the district.
For 11 years, other teachers in the school district and people in the community complained about Freshwater preaching his Christian beliefs in class and slamming scientific theories, a school administrator told investigators.
“There is a significant amount of evidence that Mr. Freshwater’s teachings regarding subjects related to evolution were not consistent with the curriculum of the Mount Vernon City Schools and state standards,” the consultants reported.
Freshwater was told to stop teaching intelligent design and creationism, but he continued, the report found.
The report confirmed that Freshwater burned crosses onto students’ arms, using an electrostatic device, in December.
Freshwater told investigators the marks were X’s, not crosses. But all of the students interviewed in the investigation reported being branded with crosses. The investigation report includes a photo of one student’s arm with a long vertical line and a short horizontal line running through it.
Here is a video report from a Columbus TV station about the story:
Freshwater commented in a later news report that the issue was only about having his Bible in the classroom. I think what finally caused the school board to act, after all these years, was the lawsuit and liability from his science experiment that burned crosses into student’s arms. The rest of the charges were just frosting on the cake.
The investigation showed:
There is a significant amount of evidence that Mr. Freshwaters’ teachings regarding subjects related to evolution were not consistent with the curriculum of the Mount Vernon City Schools and State standards. Contrary to Mr. Freshwater’s statement, the evidence indicates he has been teaching creationism and intelligent design and has been teaching the unreliability of carbon dating in support of opposition to evolution. He has passed out materials to students for the past several years challenging evolution and then collecting the materials back from the students. He has done so in spite of specific directives not to teach creationism or intelligent design. He has taught students to use the code word “Here” to challenge scientific process that is considered settled by the high school science teachers.
In addition, there is evidence that Mr. Freshwater inappropriately said to his class that science is wrong because the Bible states that homosexuality is a sin and so anyone who is gay chooses to be gay and therefore is a sinner.
Mr. Freshwater did improperly use an electrostatic device on the student who filed the complaint and other students in his science class in a manner that was not in compliance with the manufacturer’s instructions. While there did not appear to be any intent by Mr. Freshwater to cause injury to any student, he was not using the device for its intended purpose. Contrary to Mr. Freshwater’s statement he simply made an “X” not a “cross,” all of the students described the marking as a “cross” and the pictures provided depict a “cross”.