John Freshwater Case: Probably Finished

We haven’t been writing much about this matter because it’s been so well covered by Richard B. Hoppe at Panda’s Thumb. His reporting about this story is far better than anyone else’s.

For those who may not know, this was an administrative hearing to determine whether John Freshwater should be fired as an 8th-grade science teacher in Ohio. He had been accused of burning a cross on a student with a Tesla coil, teaching religion in his science class, and failing to follow the school district’s orders. Freshwater claimed that the district wanted to fire him only because he refused to remove a bible from his desk.

For various reasons, including the presentation of irrelevant issues, but mostly due to numerous scheduling recesses, this thing has lasted more than two years. Along the way there have also been a couple of court cases, but Freshwater lost one of those and dismissed the other, so this excessively prolonged administrative matter was all that remained.

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has been following this case. They’ve been linking to (and archiving) the source documents, and they’ve also relied on Richard Hoppe’s posts. Yesterday, in Recommendation in the Freshwater case they conveniently provided background information on the Freshwater litigation outside of the administrative hearing:

Freshwater’s actions also provoked a lawsuit, Doe v. Mount Vernon Board of Education et al., which was settled in December 2010, with a payment to the plaintiffs [not to Freshwater] of almost half a million dollars. Freshwater filed his own lawsuit against the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education in June 2009, but then filed a notice to dismiss it in October 2010.

With all that reporting by Richard and the NCSE, there’s been nothing for your Curmudgeon to do except mention the case’s existence when it appeared in the news. This is probably the last time we’ll be posting about it.

Last week the seemingly endless hearing finally ended. Richard reported Summary of the referee’s recommendation, with a link to the hearing referee’s report (a 13-page pdf file), in which hearing referee R. Lee Shepherd recommended Freshwater’s dismissal. Shepherd’s report concluded with this:

My recommendation to the Board of Education of the Mount Vernon City School District is that the Board terminate John Freshwater’s contract(s) for “good and just cause.”

All that remained at that point was the decision of the Board. Would they accept the referee’s recommendation and terminate Freshwater, or would they ignore Shepherd’s report and retain the creationist? Deciding either way would be controversial.

We predicted that despite some support for Freshwater on the Board and in the local community, the Board would approve the referee’s report and Freshwater would be fired. Why did we think that? Because as long as one is going to be criticized for deciding either way, it’s best to take the most justifiable action. The referee had spent more than two years hearing all the evidence and the Board was in no position to second-guess him. Approving Shepherd’s report would be both simple and defensible.

Well, the Board has acted. Today (or last night, apparently) Richard reports Freshwater: Terminated. He says:

After a nearly two-hour executive session, the Board of Education of the Mount Vernon (Ohio) City School District tonight voted by a 4-1 margin to terminate the teaching contract of John Freshwater.

[…]

Unless Freshwater elects to appeal to the Knox County Court of Common Pleas, the first step on the state court ladder, that ends this sorry affair.

There’s nothing we can add. John Freshwater will fade from the news, along with his Tesla coil, his defiant creationism, and his classroom bible. Perhaps he’ll find a new job better suited to his talents — teaching creation science at some religious school. Then things will get back to normal — whatever that may be — in Mount Vernon, Ohio.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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13 responses to “John Freshwater Case: Probably Finished

  1. I don’t think Freshwater will go so quietly, even though he lost his job, lost his lawsuits and was not supported by the investigation. He’s never admitted he was wrong and I don’t think he ever will. Typical M.O. of the creationist.

  2. Doc Bill says: “I don’t think Freshwater will go so quietly …”

    I think legal fees have drained him. Unless one of those freebie outfits takes up his case, I think it’s over.

  3. Indeed. He even signed his house and property over to Hamilton in order to pay him, though I don’t know if Hamilton will actually collect on that debt.

    Of course, having absolutely nothing left to lose means there’s no reason not to double down. But like SC I don’t think many lawyers will be willing to take his case pro bono.

  4. Actual consequences for violating students’ rights by teaching them religion.

    I like it.

  5. He branded a young person with a Tesla coil– I can’t imagine that *any* school would hire him at this point.

  6. Gabriel Hanna

    Notice how long it has taken to fire him, even when he’s done such over-the-top things–and he STILL has legal recourse available if he can find a lawyer willing to help him do it.

    I don’t understand why teachers get this level of due process and demand it as a matter of right.

  7. He branded a young person with a Tesla coil

    Well, haven’t we all, from time to time?

  8. Curmudgeon: “With all that reporting by Richard and the NCSE…”

    You forgot the nonstop Discoveroid outrage of how they’re trying to “expel” him. Oh, wait…

  9. Gabriel, this article (which SC also reported on) may provide a partial answer to both of your (probably rhetorical) questions.

    1. Any time the judicial branch is involved, things slow way down and cost goes way up. Compared to other court cases regarding firing, Freshwater’s two years and $900k, while ridiculous, isn’t all that exceptional. The linked case, for example, has taken 5+ years for a court to resolve the question of which suits have enough merit to proceed.

    2. Teachers demand that level of due process because, if they didn’t, administrators would punish them and require them to apologize for doing their jobs any time a group of parents complained. Again, the link provides an example.

    You have to think of it as a package deal. You either get to protect teachers from creationist political action using due process – at the cost of giving creationist teachers access to that same due process – or you get neither.

  10. “Then things will get back to normal — whatever that may be — in Mount Vernon, Ohio.”

    That line stung a bit, since Mount Vernon is where I grew up. Of course, I haven’t lived there in over forty years… Had I been born quite a bit later, everything else being equal, I would have had Freshwater for Eighth Grade science, and I’d like to imagine myself as the hero of an anti-Jack Chick pamphlet in which the smart science-savvy kid takes down the Creationist teacher with irrefutable arguments and iron-clad logic. In the real world, my actual Eighth Grade self wasn’t nearly as organized and well-read as all that, so what I would have actually done confronted with a Freshwater type, I dunno. In a teacher vs. student tussle, the teacher has the advantage since he gives out the grades.
    My actual science teacher had some problems of his own, but he lent me his science-fiction magazines when he was done reading them and he showed the class at least one of those Bell Science educational films that take the position of “God gave you a brain — use it to discover the wonders of the universe with science!” Despite the problems I have elliptically alluded to above, I think he meant well and sincerely wanted to teach the kids something. My Ninth Grade Biology teacher was even better, and you came out of his class not only knowing more about Biology than when you went in, you were actually interested in it now. Whatever can be said of Mr. Freshwater, he had some worthy predecessors.

  11. Benjamin Franklin

    No worries, John Freshwater!

    I read that Answers In Genesis will soon have 947 positions available.

    I bet that you could even work at the “Branding for Jesus” concession.

    Can you say “Would you like some ‘Flood Fries’ with your ‘Bible Burger”?

  12. Gabriel Hanna

    @eric:Compared to other court cases regarding firing, Freshwater’s two years and $900k, while ridiculous, isn’t all that exceptional. The linked case, for example, has taken 5+ years for a court to resolve the question of which suits have enough merit to proceed.

    That’s exactly the problem. If Freshwater had been a shoe salesman who burned his customers’ arms and subjected them to creationist rants, the time it would take to fire him would be measured in minutes. True, he might sue later.

    Teachers demand that level of due process because, if they didn’t, administrators would punish them and require them to apologize for doing their jobs any time a group of parents complained. Again, the link provides an example.

    Every fast-food manager labors under that burden. What we have is a system that protects teacher’s jobs at all costs no matter what it is they have done.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/29/education/29rubber.html

    For the last several years, teachers accused of incompetence or wrongdoing have been forced into rubber rooms, formally called Temporary Reassignment Centers, where they receive a full salary but do not work while they wait for the Department of Education or a hearing officer to decide their fate.

    Monday was the last day for the roughly 700 teachers and administrators spread among seven reassignment centers, where they were sent after being accused of transgressions as small as persistent tardiness and as serious as sexually harassing students.

    Don’t you love that “as small as persistent tardiness”? Know what persistent tardiness gets you in the private sector? It gets you fired. It doesn’t get you years at full pay while not being allowed to work.

  13. O.K., why isn’t Freshwater in prison? If he did burn a cross into the skin of a student, that surely warrants an assault and battery charge (no pun intended), and a clever prosecutor likely could come up with something more.