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Recommendation in the Freshwater case

"A Mount Vernon teacher defied his bosses and ignored the U.S. Constitution when he continually used his 8th-grade science classes to push his own Christian agenda and he should be fired for it, a state hearing officer has concluded," the Columbus Dispatch (January 8, 2011) reported. The case involves John Freshwater, a middle school science teacher in Mount Vernon, Ohio, who 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 over his actions in 2008, the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education voted to begin proceedings to terminate his employment in the district; the Dispatch explained, "Before Ohio teachers can be fired, they are entitled to a hearing before a referee, who then makes a recommendation to the school board." In Freshwater's case, the administrative hearings proceeded sporadically for the better part of two years. Detailed reports on the hearings by Richard B. Hoppe are available on The Panda's Thumb blog (search for "Freshwater").

In his report, R. Lee Shepherd, who presided over the hearings, recommended Freshwater's firing, writing (PDF), "he 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." Discussing Freshwater's presentation of "the evidence both for and against evolution," he observed that while the evidence for evolution was provided by the science textbooks, "the evidence against evolution was based, in large part, upon the Christian religious [principles] of Creationism and Intelligent Design."

Shepherd's recommendation is not binding on the board, and Freshwater's minister told the Dispatch that Freshwater would have no comment until the board decided whether to terminate his employment. 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 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.