John Freshwater Update (27 Aug ’09)

THIS mess has been going on forever. Our last update was here: John Freshwater Trial Update (09 Jan).

QUICK BACKGROUND: This is an administrative hearing to determine whether John Freshwater will be fired as an 8th-grade science teacher in Ohio. He’s accused of burning a student, teaching religion in his science class, and failing to follow the school district’s orders. Freshwater says the district wants to fire him only because he refused to remove a Bible from his desk.

The proceedings to fire Freshwater have been getting most of the attention, but there are side issues that have also been pending in addition to the hearing described above. One of those ancillary matters has just been concluded. In the Columbus Dispatch we read Mount Vernon schools settle suit over cross-branding incident. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

Mount Vernon schools have agreed to settle a federal lawsuit with the family of a boy who said his eighth-grade teacher burned a cross in his arm with a laboratory instrument and taught religious-based theories in the classroom. The district and its insurance carrier have agreed to pay Zachary Dennis and his family $5,500 and their attorneys $115,500.

[…]

The settlement does not affect a similar lawsuit brought by the Dennises against Freshwater. Nor does it affect a lawsuit that Freshwater filed against the school district.

Paying the family $5,500 is a nuisance settlement. Let’s read on:

In June 2008, the school board announced its intention to fire Freshwater. He is fighting that move in an administrative hearing. In the meantime, he has been on unpaid administrative leave.

Freshwater’s hearing, allowable under Ohio law, has been ongoing for more than a year. The hearing has already cost the district more than $300,000 in legal fees.

So Mr. Freshwater’s status is still undecided. Maybe they’ll figure it out by the end of the year.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

add to del.icio.usAdd to Blinkslistadd to furlDigg itadd to ma.gnoliaStumble It!add to simpyseed the vineTailRankpost to facebook

. AddThis Social Bookmark Button . Permalink for this article

6 responses to “John Freshwater Update (27 Aug ’09)

  1. I remember riding my bike around my end of town as a kid, and it slowly dawning on me that what was then a flat bottomland where corn grew may have once been an ancient lake. There were even actual cliffs along the edges in at least two places marking the old shoreline. It got me to thinking at that tender age about how old the Earth had to be.

    Many years later, that bottomland was where they built the new junior high school, and it was where John Freshwater went to work every day. The corn fields are gone but the cliffs are still there. He apparently never looked around and thought about just where he was standing. But he probably thinks the Grand Canyon was carved in a matter of weeks, so an ancient lakebed might not bother him.

    It’s too bad the school couldn’t have just made a quiet deal with Freshwater at the start of all this by slipping him $300,000 to resign. He would have had a stake to start a new career, the school wouldn’t be out any more than it is now, and all that trouble would have been avoided. As it is, the money has just gone to keep lawyers well fed. (Like that settlement with the kid who was burned. The actual victim gets a measley five grand while the lawyers get over $115,000. Something’s not quite right there!)

  2. Deklane says: “The actual victim gets a measley five grand while the lawyers get over $115,000. Something’s not quite right there!”

    If the school board had offered to settle as soon as their investigation revealed what happened, the numbers would have been far different — at least regarding the legal fees. By dragging it out, what did the school district accomplish? I don’t blame this on the kid’s lawyers. It’s probably the fault of the school board and their lawyers.

  3. comradebillyboy

    As a high school science teacher myself, I really can’t understand how Freshwater has made it this far. Here in Albuquerque he would have been fired long ago, and rightly so.

  4. Just to remind everyone to check to see if the DI is still silent on this issue. Surely they have an opinion on the settlement. At least “none of this would have been necessary if Freshwater just stuck to teaching ‘strengths and weaknesses’ of evolution.”

  5. A couple of notes:

    Deklane wrote

    (Like that settlement with the kid who was burned. The actual victim gets a measley five grand while the lawyers get over $115,000. Something’s not quite right there!)

    The family did not seek large damages. They said from the beginning that their goal was not money but was to ensure that the problematic behavior of the teacher(s) at the middle school was stopped. Note that in the settlement they also required that the district provide training on religion in the public schools. The first teacher in-service pursuant to that requirement was held the week before school opened this year. It was led by an attorney for the Board and an attorney from the Ohio Education Association.

    The Curmudgeon wrote

    If the school board had offered to settle as soon as their investigation revealed what happened, the numbers would have been far different — at least regarding the legal fees. By dragging it out, what did the school district accomplish? I don’t blame this on the kid’s lawyers. It’s probably the fault of the school board and their lawyers.

    In fact the school board has followed the statutorily required course of action. Any dragging out has been due to Freshwater’s attorney. I’ve attended all but one of the sessions of the administrative hearing, and R. Kelly Hamilton, Freshwater’s attorney, is mainly reponsible for the length of the hearing. The Board’s attorney, David Millstone, has been succinct and disciplined in his questioning. Hamilton is rambling, unfocused, and discursive. He engages in fishing expeditions, and almost appears to be using the administrative hearing to conduct discovery for the federal court suits.

    And just to add to the fun, if the hearing referee recommends against Freshwater and the board of education terminates him, Freshwater has the legal option to then appeal the decision in the court of common pleas.

    comradebillyboy commented

    As a high school science teacher myself, I really can’t understand how Freshwater has made it this far. Here in Albuquerque he would have been fired long ago, and rightly so.

    There was apparently at least one administrator, an assistant principal, who was an enabler of the problematic behavior by teachers in the middle school for some years. In 2008-2009 a new superintendent and a new middle school principal took office and this mess was dumped in their laps. They’ve screwed up in some respects — for example, their documentation of problems was woefully inadequate — but at least they’ve moved in the right direction.

    Freshwater is a charismatic and enthusiastic man and has a good-sized following here. Regardless of how it comes out it’s been a tough time for this small community.

  6. Good comment, RBH. Thanks. My writing about the Freshwater matter has been minimal lately, even when something is going on, because there’s so much more information at Panda’s Thumb.