Sunday, October 30, 2011

MV school board candidates answer questions

During a debate Thursday evening, candidates for the Mount Vernon Board of Education addressed topics ranging from church and state issues to problems with school funding.

The debate began with a questioned posed to Jeff Cline about expressing Christian values in the classroom. Cline responded that although he does not advocate preaching in the classroom he does believe that there are times when a Christian should choose to honor God’s law over man’s law.

Cline gave the example of a time, as a high school baseball coach, that he prayed and discussed his Christian beliefs with a student who had approached him asking for help with some problems. “As a Christian,” Cline told the audience, “if you have certain moral values and certain convictions, stand for them.”

Later in the evening when the matter of the school’s handling of the firing of teacher John Freshwater was brought up, Cline said that issue is one of the reasons he is running for the school board. He explained that his position on that issue is that “Freshwater was wronged.” He went on to say, “If we have another situation like that, we will make sure that it is not [handled] wrong.”

The debate was sponsored by the Knox County 912 Project and held at the Knox County Career Center, Adult Education Building.

Candidates present were Dr. Margie Bennett (Incumbent), Jeff Cline, Marie Curry and Stephen Kelly. Not present were Cheryl Feasel and Jody Goetzman (Incumbent).

Comments from Richard McLarnan were not included in video coverage of the debate due to him being a candidate for the governing board of the Knox County Educational Service Center instead of a candidate for the Mount Vernon Board of Education.

For information regarding “church and state” issues, see the article by David Barton “The Separation of Church and State.”

(“School board candidate takes on notion of 'separation of church and state'”)

(“MVBOE candidates answer questions”)

UPDATE 11-2-2011 (FACT CHECK):

School district’s expenses for recent legal matters

During the debate, Bennett responded to the issue of the expenses for recent legal matters, saying (32:33 in video):

“I would just remind everyone that the Mount Vernon City School Board was sued, we didn’t seek the lawsuit, we simply defended the school district, and it’s been upheld in each court in which it has been presented. It amounts to $300,000 per year for three years, which was one percent of our budget, for legal expenses, which is probably not exorbitant if you think of a business; we are the fifth largest employer in Mount Vernon. Am I happy that we had to spend money that way? Absolutely not. But the school board had no choice; it was obligated to defend itself. And we have attempted to put additional personnel policies in place so that more evaluation and accountability will take place at a sooner level so that hopefully teachers will know the boundaries and respect them.”

The following is a list of the recent legal matters and the cost incurred by the district (expenses covered by the district’s insurance are not included):

• The federal case Doe v. Mount Vernon Board of Education et al. (in which the Dennis family sued the school board and others): $0.00.

• The federal case Freshwater v. Mount Vernon Board of Education et al. (in which Freshwater sued the school board and others): $0.00.

• The state administrative hearing pursuant to Ohio Revised Code 3319.16 (in which evidence for and against firing Freshwater was presented to a referee): $922,425.91.

• The Knox County Court of Common Pleas case John Freshwater v. Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education (in which Freshwater appealed his firing): $0.00.

The district was not directly responsible for the legal costs in the cases in which it was sued. Although it is true that once the board decided to start the process of firing Freshwater it was obligated to have a hearing if Freshwater requested one, the board did make choices that affected the cost incurred by the district for the hearing.

When Freshwater requested the hearing he also requested that the hearing be held before members of the board. Instead, the board decided to have the hearing before a referee. (Both options are allowed under Ohio law.) That decision cost $35,749.50.

When the board faced the decision of legal representation for the hearing it had two options under Ohio law: Use the services of the law director for the city of Mount Vernon or hire an attorney. The board chose to hire an attorney and ended up paying the attorney’s law firm $833,288.16.

Related documents:

The schools’ expenses for legal matters. 75KB PDF.

Ohio law regarding the hearing and legal representation for the school board. 142KB PDF.


The following are the official results for the Mount Vernon Board of Education race (three positions were up for election):

Jolene Goetzman 4,375 (20.36%)

Margie Bennett 4,049 (18.84%)

Cheryl A. Feasel 3,757 (17.48%)

Marie K. Curry 3,733 (17.37%)

Jeffrey S. Cline 3,004 (13.98%)

Stephen Kelly 2,572 (11.97%)

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."