Freshwater Termination

John Freshwater, an eighth-grade science teacher for the Mount Vernon School District, had been the subject of an investigation commissioned by the Board of Education after student and teacher complaints. The Board determined that Freshwater had proselytized in class, had taught creationism, omitted required material on evolution, and had branded students using a Tesla coil. Stephen & Jenifer Dennis, the parents of one child who had been branded with a Christian cross, filed suit against Freshwater and the district. (That suit was settled with a significant monetary award to the Dennis family in September of 2009.) The Board voted to begin the process of terminating Freshwater's employment on June 20, 2008. A year later on June 9, 2009, John Freshwater filed suit against the Board and against several individuals and organizations.

The termination hearings officially ended on January 6, 2011, and the referee recommended on the following day that Freshwater's teaching appointment be terminated. The School Board officially terminated Freshwater on January 10, 2011. On February 8, 2011, Freshwater appealed his termination in the Knox County Common Court of Pleas. The appeal was entered as a complaint and besides reinstatement, further asks the court for monetary damages from the School Board "for defamation, false light, emotional distress, [and] constitutional violations...."

John Freshwater's first legal challenge to the decision to terminate his employment as a middle school science teacher in Mount Vernon, Ohio, failed on October 5, 2011, when a Knox County Common Pleas Court ruled against him. According to the Mount Vernon News (October 5, 2011), the judge wrote, "there is clear and convincing evidence to support the Board of Education’s termination of Freshwater’s contract(s) for good and just cause," denied Freshwater's request for further hearings, and ordered him to pay the cost of the hearings.

Subsequently in December 2011, Freshwater appealed the decision of the Common Pleas Court to the Fifth District Court of Appeals. NCSE and the Dennis family filed separate amicus Briefs with the Court of Appeals in January 2012 supporting the school district. In March 2012, the Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's decision.

In April 2012, Freshwater, with an attorney from the Rutherford Institute, appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court to overturn the District Court's ruling. In July 2012, the Ohio Supreme Court agreed to review the ruling on two of the appeal's three arguments. In November 2013, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld, 4-3, the decision of the court of appeals that evidence supports Freshwater's termination for insubordination. Freshwater asked for a reconsideration of the decision, but his request was denied in January 2014.

Freshwater then took his case to the United States Supreme Court in April 2014, arguing that the case should be heard in order to address questions about the extent of the applicability of the First Amendment and academic freedom to teachers while they are at work, as well as "to correct the grievous injustice that Freshwater has suffered." In its brief of opposition, the Mount Vernon City School Board argued that, since the Ohio Supreme Court determined that Freshwater's termination was permissible under state law, the Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction. The Board also argued in detail against Freshwater's claims about the First Amendment, academic freedom, and the facts of the case.

On October 6, 2014, the Supreme Court declined, without comment, to hear Freshwater's appeal.

This is likely the last chapter in the long saga which began in 2008, when a local family accused Freshwater of engaging in inappropriate religious activity — including teaching creationism — and sued Freshwater and the district. The Mount Vernon City School Board then voted to begin proceedings to terminate his employment. After administrative hearings that proceeded sporadically over two years, the referee presiding over the hearings finally issued his recommendation that the board terminate his employment with the district, and the board voted to do so in January 2011.

 

Related NCSE Articles

News: Creationist teacher sued in Ohio
News: Creationist teacher in Ohio to be fired
News: Hearing scheduled for creationist teacher's appeal in Ohio
News: Creationist teacher in Ohio sues school district
News: A final defeat for Freshwater

 

Related Off-Site Material

Extensive blog coverage at The Panda's Thumb, including Richard Hoppe's day-by-day accounts of Freshwater's termination hearing
Coverage of the Freshwater Controversy at the Mount Vernon News
Coverage of the Freshwater case at the Columbus Dispatch. See the "Read the Report" and "Web Extras" sections of this page for district documents relevant to the case.

 

AttachmentSize
1/7/11: Referee's Recommendation to Terminate267.31 KB
2/8/11: Termination Appeal1.84 MB
3/1/11: Board of Education (BOE) Motion to Seal Documents67.19 KB
3/2/11: Court Order to Seal Documents67.15 KB
3/7/11: Memo to Include Related Cases & Transfer to Judge Frost137.07 KB
3/8/11: BOE Answer to Complaint92.35 KB
3/9/11: Notice of Pretrial Conference23.66 KB
3/10/11: Judge Orders Matter Remanded to Knox County Court22.26 KB
3/28/11: BOE's Deposition of Freshwater on 15 Oct 20101.77 MB
3/28/11: BOE's Brief Explaining Why Case Should Not Be Remanded1.63 MB
3/28/11: Freshwater's Brief Explaining Why Case Should Be Remanded141.22 KB
4/5/11: Case Remanded to Knox County Court28.79 KB
4/20/11: Freshwater's Response to Letter of Admonishment from Ohio Dept of Education5.6 MB
5/3/11: Dennises' Ltr to Ohio DOE in response to Freshwater's Response to ODOE21.53 MB
10/5/11: Court Ruling989.27 KB
12/6/11: Freshwater's Appeal Brief1.26 MB
12/9/11: BOE motion for Extension of Time23.83 KB
1/10/12: NCSE's Amicus Brief1.71 MB
1/10/12: Dennises' Amicus Brief1.67 MB
1/11/12: BOE's Brief3.23 MB
3/5/12: Fifth District Court of Appeals's Ruling260.66 KB
3/5/12: Fifth District Court of Appeals's Ruling0 bytes
4/13/12: Freshwater's Appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court6.22 MB
5/11/12: BOE response to Freshwater729.83 KB
7/5/12: Ohio Supreme Court accepts Appeal29.8 KB
8/24/12: Appellant's Merit Brief2.95 MB
9/24/12: BOE Motion to strike portions of Freshwater's Merit Brief274.23 KB
10/4/12: Amici Curiae Brief of the American Humanist Association and the Secular Student Alliance in support of Appellee1.38 MB
10/4/12: Amici Curiae Brief of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Anti Defamation League1.57 MB
10/4/12: Amici Curiae Brief of Dennis Family1.3 MB
10/4/12: Merit Brief of Mt. Vernon Board of Education (Appellee)1.63 MB
10/4/12: Amicus Curiae Brief of NCSE14.78 MB
10/23/12: Freshwater Reply Brief5.94 MB
11/19/13: Decision of the Supreme Court of Ohio229.83 KB
11/26/13: Freshwater's Motion for Reconsideration1.06 MB
12/6/13: Board of Education's Opposition to Reconsideration497.08 KB
1/22/14: Court denies reconsideration. Includes dissenting opinion.53.49 KB
4/22/14: Petition for Writ of Certiorari564.72 KB
5/29/14: Brief in Opposition12.74 MB