By Rob Boston
We’ve written several times about the antics of John Freshwater, an eighth-grade science teacher in Mount Vernon, Ohio, who was accused of teaching creationism and promoting religion in class.
It took a while, but there is good news to report: Freshwater has been fired.
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This has been a long-running saga. To sum up: Freshwater was a misguided public school teacher who got it into his head that his job was to preach his fundamentalist Christian views in class.
In 2003, Freshwater asked the school board to allow him to teach creationism and its clumsily camouflaged companion “intelligent design.” Board members refused, but Freshwater did it anyway. In fact, a report on his activities issued by R. Lee Shepherd, a hearing officer hired by the Ohio Department of Education, determined that Freshwater “overtly and covertly” began teaching creationism.
Shepherd also found that Freshwater was “determined to inject his personal religious beliefs into his plan.”
Freshwater tried to keep things under wraps. For example, he handed out creationist material in class, which he always collected and refused to let students take home. He also passed out surveys to students, asking them if religion was important to them. (See more on the entire affair here.)
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Mount Vernon isn’t that big – about 16,000 people live there – so inevitably word of Freshwater’s activities leaked out. The community was divided. Some students and parents supported Freshwater, while others thought he had gone too far.
Ironically, it wasn’t creationism that brought Freshwater down. His downfall came after he was accused of using an electronic device (a Tesla coil) to burn a cross into a student’s arm. The boy’s parents complained to school officials, who began looking into the teacher’s activities.
The matter went to court, ending in a judgment and financial settlement in favor of Zachary Dennis and his family. Freshwater was put on unpaid leave and demanded a hearing into the matter.
Shepherd’s report is the culmination of that hearing – and it’s not favorable to Freshwater.
As Shepherd noted, Freshwater was accused of flagrantly disobeying school policies. Shepherd wrote that Freshwater’s stance “appears to have been one of defiance, disregard, and resistance.”
In the conclusion of his report, Shepherd wrote, “It is not determined whether any one of the bases/grounds for consideration of termination would be sufficient in and of itself; however, the multiple incidents which gave rise to the numerous and various bases/grounds more than suffice in support of termination…. My recommendation to the Board of Education of the Mount Vernon City School District is that the Board terminate John Freshwater’s contract(s) for ‘good and just cause.’”
The school board promptly took Shepherd’s advice. I’m glad for that, but there’s a sad footnote to this entire affair: The Columbus Dispatch reported that the investigation cost local taxpayers $900,000.
That’s a lot of money for a small school district, and it could have been put to much better use – say, for example, to buy textbooks and supplies to teach real science.