Tuesday, January 11, 2011

School board votes 4-1 to fire Freshwater

The president of the Mount Vernon Board of Education had to prompt board members several times before one of the members offered to move to adopt the resolution to terminate John Freshwater’s teaching contract.

Paula Barone moved, seconded by Jody Goetzman, to fire Freshwater.

Steve Thompson was the only board member to vote against the resolution.

(Click here to view a copy of the resolution adopted by the school board during Monday’s meeting. 632.765 KB PDF.)

The referee overseeing Freshwater’s state administrative hearing, R. Lee Shepherd, issued a report on Friday recommending the termination of the teacher’s contract.

In the beginning of the report, however, Shepherd dismisses the allegation that Freshwater burned a cross onto the arm of one of his students:

“Due to the sensational and provocative nature of this specified ground, it and the facts and circumstances surrounding it became the focus of the curious, including those in the video, audio, and print media. Once sworn testimony was presented, it [became] obvious that speculation and imagination had pushed reality aside.”

Shepherd also noted that the matter involving the Tesla coil had already been dealt with by school administration. (See the article, “Tesla Coil Matter Was Officially Resolved January 2008.” )

Although Shepherd said that Freshwater violated the Establishment Clause and that he recommended firing Freshwater, he noted that Freshwater excelled as a teacher:

“Initially, it must be noted that a wealth of evidence was presented to substantiate that John Freshwater was a successful eighth grade science teacher. Many, possibly most of his students seemed to enjoy his class and remember it fondly. On the average, Freshwater students performed at or above the state requirements and expectations for eighth grade science students. The state test score results for his students often exceeded the state test score results of other eighth grade science teachers. On more than one occasion, John Freshwater was recognized by his peers for his outstanding teaching skills.”

(Click here to view a copy of Shepherd’s report and recommendation. 41.084 KB PDF.)

The school board did not permit public participation during the meeting. Board president, Dr. Margie Bennett, said this was “because we have a lot of business to cover.” See correction at end of article.

Video: "Paula Barone withdraws recusal regarding John Freshwater hearing."

(Click here to view a copy of the Paula Barone and Steve Thompson recusal letters. 1.19 MB PDF)

Video: "School board votes 4-1 to fire John Freshwater."

Video: "School board members talk about the firing of John Freshwater."

For Freshwater’s side of the story, see the article, “Freshwater’s Closing Arguments: Allegations Unsubstantiated.” Also see the articles in the archive for additional coverage of the Freshwater controversy.

UPDATE 2-15-2011:

Related Document

As already reported by the media, Freshwater filed an appeal February 8 with the Knox County Common Pleas Court. (Click here to view a copy of the 33 page document. 3MB PDF. )


During the February 14 school board meeting, Bennett said she wanted to clear up a misunderstanding over why there was no public participation at the last meeting.

“Public participation,” Bennett said, “is always a part of our meetings and we would never do away with it because we are too busy. The reason we didn’t have any was because no one had signed up.”

(Editor’s note: Based on having gone back and looked at the video, it appears that Bennett’s statement at the opening of the prior meeting —“We won’t spend a lot of time on comments this evening because we want to go right into…we have a lot of business to cover”—was intended by her to keep the board members’ comments brief.)

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