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


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.

 

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