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Freshwater officially fired

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.

Margie Bennett, the president of the board, told the Mount Vernon News (January 11, 2011), "The decision has been made to accept the referee’s recommendation to terminate the employment of Mr. Freshwater ... It was not an easy decision. We don’t believe there are any winners or losers in this situation. It is a very difficult situation for everyone. We are glad it has been resolved. Hopefully we can put this behind us, the community can begin to come together again and relationships can heal and we can move forward." The News added, "Freshwater, by law, may file an appeal with the Knox County Court of Common Pleas." The Associated Press (January 11, 2011) reports Freshwater as expressing disappointment in the board's decision but not indicating whether he would appeal.

In its report on the board's decision, the Columbus Dispatch (January 11, 2011) emphasized the remarkable length and cost of the hearings — "among the most costly and lengthy that education experts can recall." Allowing teachers on the verge of termination to have a hearing "protects teachers," the Dispatch explained, "and also discourages districts from keeping rogue teachers in less-sensitive positions." With regard to the Freshwater case, however, Rick Lewis, the executive director of the Ohio School Boards Association, commented, "It's sad that they had to spend all that money to do what they thought was right all along." (The cost to the board of conducting the hearings was reportedly $902,765, the bulk of which — at least $813,628 — was for the board's legal counsel.)