Thursday, May 17, 2012

MV school board allows teaching of controversial issues

No, it’s not a new development. It has been the policy, at least on paper, of the Mount Vernon Board of Education to allow the teaching of controversial issues.

The following is the board’s “Controversial Issues” policy followed by the administrative guidelines for “Controversial Issues in the Classroom”:

Policy 2240 - Controversial Issues

The Board of Education believes that the consideration of controversial issues has a legitimate place in the instructional program of the schools.

Properly introduced and conducted, the consideration of such issues can help students learn to identify important issues, explore fully and fairly all sides of an issue, weigh carefully the values and factors involved, and develop techniques for formulating and evaluating positions.

For purposes of this policy, a controversial issue is a topic on which opposing points of view have been promulgated by responsible opinion.

The Board will permit the introduction and proper educational use of controversial issues provided that their use in the instructional program:

  A. is related to the instructional goals of the course of study and level of maturity of the students;

  B. does not tend to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view;

  C. encourages open-mindedness and is conducted in a spirit of scholarly inquiry.

 Controversial issues related to the program may be initiated by the students themselves provided they are presented in the ordinary course of classroom instruction and it is not substantially disruptive to the educational setting.

Controversial issues may not be initiated by a source outside the schools unless prior approval has been given by the principal.

When controversial issues have not been specified in the course of study, the Board will permit the instructional use of only those issues which have been approved by the principal.

No classroom teacher shall be prohibited from providing reasonable periods of time for activities of a moral, philosophical, or patriotic theme. No student shall be required to participate in such activities if they are contrary to the religious convictions of the student or his/her parents or guardians.

The Board also recognizes that a course of study or certain instructional materials may contain content and/or activities that some parents find objectionable. If after careful, personal review of the program lessons and/or materials, a parent indicates to the school that either the content or activities conflicts with his/her religious beliefs or value system, the school will honor a written request for his/her child to be excused from a particular class for specified reasons. The student, however, will not be excused from participating in the course and will be provided alternate learning activities during times of such parent requested absences.

R.C. 3313.601

Revised 1/6/03

Controversial Issues in the Classroom

The following guidelines are designed to assist teachers in the instruction of controversial issues in the classroom, as defined in Policy 2240.

  A. When a controversial issue is not part of an approved course of study, its use must be approved by the Principal.

  B. Before introducing a controversial issue, teachers should consider:

    1. the chronological and emotional maturity of the students;

    2. the appropriateness and timeliness of the issue as it relates to the course and the students;

    3. the extent to which they can successfully handle the issue from a personal standpoint;

    4. the amount of time needed and available to examine the issue fairly.

  C. When discussing a controversial issue, the teacher may express his/her own personal position as long as s/he makes it clear that it is only his/her opinion. The teacher must not, however, bring about a single conclusion to which all students must subscribe.

  D. The teacher should encourage student views on issues as long as the expression of those views is not derogatory, malicious, or abusive toward other student views or toward a particular group.

  E. Teachers should help students use a critical thinking process such as the following to examine different sides of an issue:

    For each stated position:

    1. What is the person (group) saying?

    2. What evidence is there that what is being said is true?

    3. What is said that would lead you to think the position is valid?

    4. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this position?

    5. What do you think would happen if this point of view was accepted and was put into practice?

  For reaching conclusions:

    1. On balance, what do you think is the most reasoned statement? the most valid position?

    2. What is there in the statements that supports your conclusion? What other things, beside what is being said, leads you to your conclusion?

See here for a PDF compilation of the “Bylaws & Policies and Administrative Guidelines” adopted by the school board.  

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Press release: Rutherford Institute appeals to Ohio Supreme Court on behalf of science teacher fired for urging students to think critically about evolution

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

MOUNT VERNON, Ohio— The Rutherford Institute has appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court on behalf of John Freshwater, a Christian teacher who was 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 Rutherford Institute’s appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court is available here.

“Academic freedom was once the bedrock of American education. That is no longer the state of affairs, as this case makes clear,” 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 20-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 using unapproved materials to facilitate classroom discussion of origins of life theories. 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 hostility toward religion. A Common Pleas judge upheld the School Board’s decision, as did the Fifth District Court of Appeals, without analyzing these constitutional claims. In appealing to the Ohio Supreme Court, Institute attorneys argue that the Board through its actions violated the First Amendment academic freedom rights of both Freshwater and his students.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

District court rules against Freshwater’s appeal

The 5th District Court of Appeals in Ohio issued a decision Monday affirming a lower court’s decision to uphold the firing of former eighth-grade science teacher John Freshwater.

The appeal to the district court came after Knox County Court of Common Pleas Judge Otho Eyster ruled against Freshwater in October of 2011. In that prior decision, the county judge did not cite any evidence or applicable law to support upholding the firing.

Freshwater’s appeal to the district court argued that Eyster’s decision to uphold the firing “without the examination of any factual issues disputed by Appellant or any analysis of his First and Fourteenth Amendment claims, constitutes an abuse of discretion.”

The district court explained in a written opinion that it is very limited in how it is allowed to review cases brought before it. According to the three-judge panel, “unless this court determines that the trial court abused its discretion, we are compelled to affirm its decision.”

The court then cited a prior decision that defined “abuse of discretion” as being “an attitude that is unreasonable, arbitrary or unconscionable.”

After having provided multiple citations explaining the limited role of the district court and the concept of abuse of discretion, the court then skipped reviewing the decision of the county judge and instead proceeded to review the recommendation given by state administrative hearing referee R. Lee Shepherd.  

The district court apparently made the switch to evaluating the reasoning process of Shepherd instead of Eyster because Eyster did not show his reasoning process in his decision.

Ultimately, the district court decided to suppose that Shepherd’s “memorandum” could have served as the basis for Eyster’s decision and thus showed a reasoning process that, in the opinion of the district court, was not an abuse of discretion.

Eyster, however, never specifically stated that the document written by Shepherd was the basis of his decision.

(See here for a copy of the district court’s decision. PDF.)

(The district court's three-judge panel was comprised of W. Scott Gwin, William B. Hoffman and Sheila G. Farmer.)

Does it matter that Eyster did not provide his reasoning process?:

According to one law review article, a judge failing to provide his reasoning process does create “the appearance of arbitrariness”:

“Justice must not only be done, it must appear to be done. The authority of the federal judiciary rests upon the trust of the public and the bar. Courts that articulate no reasons for their decisions undermine that trust by creating the appearance of arbitrariness.” (“An Evaluation of Limited Publication in the United States Courts of Appeals: The Price of Reform” by William L. Reynolds and William M. Richman, The University of Chicago Law Review, [1981].)

Another law review article took the position that, “In our law... the exercise of a power to speak authoritatively as an interpreter carries with that an obligation to explain the grounds upon which the interpreter gives the authoritative judgment.” (Textualism, Constitutionalism, and the Interpretation of Federal Statutes” by Jerry L. Mashaw, William & Mary Law Review, [1991].)

(The above two quotes are from the website

More information about the U.S. court system:

There are a few folks out there who think the U.S. courts could use some improving, among them are people writing for the following websites:

As always, the views and opinions expressed on sites linked to are those of the individuals expressing them and are not necessarily those of