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.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Freshwater Lawsuit Dismissed

The federal case John Freshwater, et al., v. Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education, et al. was dismissed Thursday:

“Now come all parties, by and through counsel, to stipulate Plaintiffs John and Nancy Freshwater dismiss all claims contained in the First Amended Complaint with prejudice pursuant to Civ.R. 41(a)(1)(A)(ii).”

A copy of the stipulated dismissal is posted on the website of the National Center for Science Education.

UPDATE 10-22-10:

Don Matolyak, Freshwater’s pastor, provided AccountabilityInTheMedia.com with a copy of Freshwater’s statement regarding the dismissal of the lawsuit against the school board:

“I want to pass along this statement. My wife and I directly sent to the opposing attorneys the following statement by email on Wednesday, October 20, 2010. The truth is there was money offered to me several times to leave the district and stop the state hearing before Referee Shepherd could make his finding. If I took the money and left the district the opportunity for truth would never have come out and the eleven students from my 2007-2008 class would not have been able to testify about the truth. Most importantly if I took the money and left the district the Referee would have been prevented from making a decision. The Referee has heard 38 days of testimony and is the best opportunity for revealing the truth. I will await Referee R. Lee Shepherd’s decision.

“(this is the statement I made to the school board’s attorneys)

“Nancy and I prayerfully considered the settlement terms and have decided to REJECT the terms presented.

“From the beginning, my wife and I have only sought the truth. Revelations in the last few days exposed to us the strategy of those who have harmed me, a strategy designed to obscure the truth rather than seek justice and reconciliation. It has become obvious this federal platform and process will never result in the truth coming forward. Truth is not to be compromised or negotiated or hidden behind money.

“We feel confident that the hearing completed in August 2010, after 38 days of testimony before Referee R. Lee Shepherd is the best opportunity for revealing the truth we sought from the beginning. Therefore, we have decided to withdraw our federal lawsuit against all parties without any personal compensation or monetary gain as proposed, and we have instructed our attorney to file the proper paperwork. We seek no other option than to continue to patiently await the finding of Referee R. Lee Shepherd as he is the ONLY person to hear all of the testimony and most importantly see all of the students from my 2007-2008 class speak about the truth of what went on during my class.

“We have already spent our life savings and have pledged our farm to get to the truth. It is better to leave the money on the table than to take the Bible off of my desk.

“John and Nancy Freshwater”

According to Mount Vernon News reporter Pamela Schehl, school board attorney Sarah Moore said: “There was no settlement offer to accept or reject. There was no money on the table for [Freshwater] to leave there. We were baffled when we received the e-mail from him and we can't even begin to speculate why he is saying what he is saying.”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

AccountibilityInTheMedia.com Reporter Responds to Subpoena

On Monday evening I submitted a written statement to the Mount Vernon Board of Education regarding the recent subpoena I received from the school board’s attorney Sarah Moore.

In the subpoena, Moore stated that it was for the federal case John Freshwater, et al., v. Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education, et al.

(Click here to view a copy my statement to the school board and a copy of the subpoena. 891 KB PDF.)

Below is a portion of my statement:

“I understand that attorney Moore has a job to do in defending the school district in the federal case. However, there is a difference between being thorough and casting such a wide net, while fishing for information, that one goes overboard. Attorney Moore’s actions appear to be the latter.

“What criteria did attorney Moore use in deciding to whom to send subpoenas? Has she also sent subpoenas to the Mount Vernon News, KnoxPages.com, 13WMVO or the countless television stations and other newspapers who have reported on the story involving Mr. Freshwater? Will she send subpoenas to every person who has ever blogged about the story, written a letter to the editor or spoken at a school board meeting?”

I wasn’t the only one that Moore sent a subpoena to recently. Among those that received a subpoena is Levi Stickle, who maintains the website cfacts.org.

Three people spoke to the school board during the public participation portion of Monday’s school board meeting. Two of the individuals spoke about the recent subpoenas.

(“Levi Stickle to school attorney: Why did you send me a subpoena?”)

(“Community member responds to proposed MVCS levy”)

(“William Pursel: Frivolous subpoenas”)

Moore has been sent a request for comment. If and when she replies this article will be updated with her response.

Also during Monday’s meeting, school board treasurer, Barbara J. Donohue, provided an update to the school board regarding the district’s five-year forecast. She provided information regarding the financial challenges facing the district due to budget cuts at the state level.

UPDATE 10-16-10:

Moore still has not responded to the request for comment.

Mount Vernon News reporter Pamela Schehl did not include any mention of the subpoenas in her coverage of the school board meeting. See her article “McKinley honored by MV school board.”

The managing editor for the News, Samantha Scoles, provided an explanation in an email to AccountabilityInTheMedia.com :

“The reason we have not reported on the public participation portion of the most recent school board meeting is because we were not in attendance. Our education reporter was attending a different school board meeting.

“When we do not attend meetings, we can call on board members, the treasurer or the superintendent for details of the meeting, which we did in this case. I believe we were provided with the statements made in regards to the Behind the Scenes Award.

“Therefore, without being present to hear the public comments, we cannot possibly report on those.”

In an email on Oct 12, Scoles had been provided with links to videos of the public comments and a copy of the written statement given to the school board.

UPDATE 10-20-10:

Dave Daubenmire, through his attorney, has submitted a motion to quash a subpoena sent to him by Moore. Below is a portion of the motion:

“After reviewing the subpoena, it is clear that the only purpose of the subpoena was to harass, embarrass, and incur expenses for a non-party witness, simply because he is a friend of one of the parties. The subpoena should be quashed in its entirety, and attorneys fees awarded to Mr. Daubenmire from the Defendant for the expense of obtaining counsel to respond to this harassing subpoena.”

A copy of the motion is posted on the website of the National Center for Science Education.

Richard Hoppe, who writes for pandasthumb.org, wrote about the recent subpoenas issued by Moore. Below is a portion of Hoppe’s post:

“Essentially the defense is asking for everything Sam [Stickle] has ever written on the web, whether public or in private, about Freshwater, Hamilton, and the Freshwater hearing. That’s a remarkable demand. It has the effect of bringing everything a private citizen has written about this affair into a federal court proceeding for no discernible reason beyond the defense’s hope that something, anything, will turn up. It is a chilling affront to the First Amendment rights of the Stickle brothers and to anyone else (what, who me?) who might have commented somewhere on the web about this specific affair or who might write a blog post or even comment on a discussion board about any legal proceeding.”