Saturday, February 26, 2011

Did MV schools fulfill 2009 settlement terms?

In August 2009 the Mount Vernon Board of Education agreed to a partial settlement with the Dennis family. Eighteen months later, portions of the settlement may have been left unfulfilled.
As part of the agreement the school board promised that there would be two presentations given to employees of the Mount Vernon City Schools on the subject of religion in the public schools. The board also said that after they made their decision regarding John Freshwater’s employment they would issue a statement included in the settlement.
The presentations
The first presentation was given in August of 2009 by two attorneys. The second presentation, according to the settlement, was to be given by Melissa Rogers or a speaker “with similar credentials.”
The 2009 settlement stipulated that there were to be two presentations. asked the schools’ superintendent, Steve Short, whether the second presentation had been given. Short wrote back, “I have forwarded your request to our attorney for a response.”
If and when the attorney, Sarah Moore, responds this article will be updated with her response.
The settlement gave a deadline for the second presentation: September 2010.
(See here for a copy of e-mails to and from regarding the second presentation. PDF 65KB )
The statement
The school board promised to “make a public statement” using wording included in the settlement. The statement was to be issued after the board made its decision regarding Freshwater’s employment.

The school board in 2009 agreed to make a public statement after the hearing concluded. asked the school board’s president, Dr. Margie Bennett, about the statement. Bennett wrote back, “I understand Mr. Short sent the Press Release to the local media and the Columbus Dispatch.”
Following Bennett’s response, a copy of the press release was requested from the school via a public records request. When the response is received this article will be updated with the response.
(See here for a copy of e-mails to and from regarding the statement. PDF 69KB )

UPDATE 3-1-2011:

Moore has not responded to the request for comment.

The school has not replied to the public records request.

UPDATE 3-3-2011:

Rogers replied to a request for comment from, saying: “I suggest you contact David Millstone. I'd be happy to talk to you, but Mr. Millstone knows much more about this matter.”

(Millstone is one of the two attorneys that gave the first presentation to school employees on the subject of religion in the public schools. Millstone, however, did not handle the settlement with the Dennis family.) had sent the following questions to Rogers: “Were you contacted by anyone to speak at the school? Did you give a presentation at the school on the subject of religion in the public schools?”

(See here for a copy of e-mails to and from Rogers. PDF 69KB )

UPDATE 3-4-2011:

The second presentation

Short told that the second presentation has not yet been given.

“We are in the planning stages for the second speaker,” Short said. “We anticipate that we will have the second speaker in May.”

The speaker will be someone other than Rogers. “Unfortunately,” Rogers explained, “we could not work out the scheduling.”

(See here for a copy of e-mails to and from regarding the second presentation—updated on 3-4-2011. PDF 12 KB )

The statement

Short supplied a copy of a press release that contains the statement that was required pursuant to the August 2009 settlement. The press release is undated but would have been issued sometime after the school board made the decision in January 2011 to fire Freshwater.

(See here for a copy of the press release. PDF 48 KB)

(See here for a copy of e-mails to and from regarding the statement—updated on 3-4-2011. PDF 10 KB )

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 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.”