Friday, October 14, 2011

Meet the candidates October 27

There will be an opportunity to meet the candidates for the Mount Vernon Board of Education on October 27 at the Knox County Career Center, Adult Education Building:

Mount Vernon School District and Knox County Education Services Meet the Candidates Night

Knox County Career Center, Adult Education Building

308 Martinsburg Rd, Mount Vernon

October 27 at 7 P.M. (doors open at 6:30)

This event is free to the public.

Source: WNZR Community Calendar

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Press release: Rutherford Institute Will Appeal Ruling Against Teacher Fired for Urging Public School Students to Think Critically About Evolution

The following press release was provided today by The Rutherford Institute:

MOUNT VERNON, Ohio— The Rutherford Institute has announced its intention to appeal to the 5th District Court of Appeals in Ohio on behalf of John Freshwater, a Christian teacher who was allegedly fired for keeping religious articles in his classroom and for using teaching methods that encourage public school students to think critically about the school's science curriculum, particularly as it relates to evolution theories. Freshwater, a 24-year veteran in the classroom, was suspended by the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education in 2008 and officially terminated in January 2011. The School Board justified its actions by accusing Freshwater of improperly injecting religion into the classroom by giving students "reason to doubt the accuracy and/or veracity of scientists, science textbooks and/or science in general." The Board also claimed that Freshwater failed to remove "all religious articles" from his classroom, including a Bible.

"The judge's ruling is unfortunate because academic freedom is the bedrock of American education," stated John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "What we need today are more teachers and school administrators who understand that young people don't need to be indoctrinated. Rather, they need to be taught how to think for themselves."

In June 2008, the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education voted to suspend John Freshwater, a Christian with a 21-year teaching career at Mount Vernon Middle School, citing concerns about his conduct and teaching materials, particularly as they related to the teaching of evolution. Earlier that year, school officials reportedly ordered Freshwater, who had served as the faculty appointed facilitator, monitor, and supervisor of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes student group for 16 of the 20 years that he taught at Mount Vernon, to remove "all religious items" from his classroom, including a Ten Commandments poster displayed on the door of his classroom, posters with Bible verses, and his personal Bible which he kept on his desk. Freshwater agreed to remove all items except for his Bible.

Showing their support for Freshwater, students even organized a rally in his honor. They also wore t-shirts with crosses painted on them to school and carried Bibles to class. School officials were seemingly unswayed by the outpouring of support for Freshwater. In fact, despite the fact that the Board's own policy states that because religious traditions vary in their treatment of science, teachers should give unbiased instruction so that students may evaluate it "in accordance with their own religious tenets," school officials suspended and eventually fired Freshwater, allegedly for criticizing evolution and failing to teach the required science curriculum.

Freshwater appealed the termination in state court, asserting that the school's actions violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and constituted religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Knox County Common Pleas Judge Otho Eyster upheld the School Board's decision in a ruling issued on Oct. 5, 2011. Rutherford Institute attorneys have announced their intention to appeal the county court's ruling.

For more information on this story, see the Oct. 5, 2011 article "County judge rules against Freshwater’s appeal."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

County judge rules against Freshwater’s appeal

Knox County Court of Common Pleas Judge Otho Eyster ruled today against John Freshwater’s appeal of his firing by the Mount Vernon Board of Education.

Eyster did not cite any evidence or applicable law in support of his decision. Instead, Eyster simply wrote in his decision that he “considered the applicable law” and that he found “clear and convincing evidence to support” the teacher’s firing for “good and just cause.”

(See here for a copy of the decision. 320KB PDF)

Due to Eyster’s failure to provide specifics in his decision, the judge has left unchallenged the school’s action of ordering Freshwater to remove his personal Bible from off his classroom desk.

In the school board’s resolution firing Freshwater, the board had stated that the teacher’s refusal to remove the Bible* and, additionally, bringing into the classroom two religious books from the school’s library constituted “good and just cause” for firing him.

The board, based on the report by hearing referee R. Lee Shepherd, had provided a total of ten reasons for the firing.

Freshwater challenged those reasons in his appeal and requested that he be able to present additional information to the court, saying, “additional information has become available since the close of the hearing conducted by the referee, the information of which was not previously made available despite efforts to obtain.”

Eyster’s ruling came without the admission of additional evidence from Freshwater. Eyster explained that he was not allowing additional days of hearings because of the “number of witnesses and exhibits presented” already during the state administrative hearing.

As reported by in June, at least one of the ten reasons the board gave for firing Freshwater was based solely on the testimony of a witness who, according to school records obtained through a public records request, was not present in the classroom during the time period he claimed to be.

According to The Columbus Dispatch, Freshwater has 30 days to appeal Eyster’s decision.

*Note: The board’s resolution on this point is vaguely worded and is open to interpretation. Freshwater’s appeal to 5th District Court of Appeals in Ohio interprets it as being a reference to the Colin Powell/George W. Bush poster. See the article “Freshwater appeals to 5th District Court.”

Related documents:

Closing arguments from the state administrative hearing

Freshwater’s appeal (3.25 MB PDF)

Previous articles mentioning Eyster:

“Case ‘closed’ without trial, without verdict”

“John Freshwater Files Writ of Mandamus with Supreme Court of Ohio”

See the articles in the archive for additional coverage of the Freshwater controversy.

UPDATE 10/6/2011:

The Rutherford Institute has announced that it plans to appeal to the 5th District Court of Appeals in Ohio on behalf of Freshwater.

UPDATE 10/7/2011:

Christian Post reporter Alex Murashko has written an article about Eyster’s decision and Freshwater’s plans to appeal: “Fired Christian Teacher: ‘I Teach All Aspects of Evolution.’”