Monday, January 10, 2011

Referee Concludes That Ohio Science Teacher Repeatedly Violated Establishment Clause

In Mount Vernon, Ohio on Friday, a referee appointed pursuant to an Ohio Revised Code 3319.16 has recommended that middle school science teacher John Freshwater's contract be terminated because of Freshwater's repeated violations of the Establishment Clause. (Full text of referee's findings.) The Mount Vernon City School Board voted unanimously in 2008 to fire Freshwater after an investigation of complaints that he taught creationism or intelligent design in class, told his class that anyone who is gay is a sinner, improperly used an electrostatic device to put a cross on the arm of a student, was excessively involved in the school's Fellowship of Christian Athletes and was insubordinate in failing to remove religious materials when ordered to do so by his principal. (See prior posting.)

In Friday's report, the referee, appointed after Freshwater demanded a hearing, concluded that while Freshwater was a successful and well-liked science teacher, he insisted on inserting his personal religious beliefs into his instruction.  The referee concluded that Freshwater:
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. John Freshwater ignored the concept of in loco parentis and, instead, used his classroom as a means of sowing the seeds of doubt and confusion in the minds of impressionable students as they searched for meaning in the subject of science. John Freshwater purposely used his classroom to advance his Christian religious views knowing full well or ignoring the fact that those views might conflict with the private beliefs of his students. John Freshwater refused and/or failed to employ objectivity in his instruction of a variety of science subjects and, in so doing, endorsed a particular religious doctrine.
Yesterday's Columbus Dispatch, reporting on these developments, points out that the board of education, whose composition now differs somewhat from that of the board that initially voted to fire Freshwater, is not bound to accept the referee's conclusions. Freshwater's hearing, that went on sporadically for nearly two years, cost taxpayers $700,000. Freshwater's activities have generated a number of lawsuits, all of which now have been concluded in one fashion or another. (See prior related posting.)

UPDATE: The Jan. 11 Mount Vernon (OH) News reports that the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education voted 4-1 to accept the referee's report and to fire Freshwater. Freshwater can still appeal this decision to a state common pleas court.