Report recommends Freshwater’s firing
By ADAM TAYLOR
KnoxPages Managing Editor
MOUNT VERNON – A referee for the Ohio Department of Education has recommended that
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suspended Mount Vernon Middle School science teacher John Freshwater be fired for “injecting his religious beliefs” into subject matter he taught his students.
After nearly two years of hearings, Attorney R. Lee Shepherd issued his ruling late Friday, finding “good and just cause” to allow the Mount Vernon City School Board to terminate the teaching contract of John Freshwater. Shepherd outlined his conclusion in a 12-page report which examined the four grounds the school board cited as reasons Freshwater should be fired.
Shepherd found that the eighth grade teacher repeatedly ignored his superiors’ requests to stop handing out religious materials and using Christian-inspired explanations for science curriculum. Rather than complying, Freshwater “used his classroom as a means of sowing the seeds of doubt and confusion in the minds of impressionable students.”
“John Freshwater purposely used his classroom to advance his Christian religious views knowing full well or ignoring the fact that those views might conflict with the private beliefs of his students,” Shepherd wrote.
The report traces Freshwater’s history of introducing Christianity into science lessons back to 2003 when he asked the board of education to consider adopting a policy to examine evidence “both for and against evolution.”
Board members refused to adopt his policies, but Freshwater reportedly took up the matter by handing out Christian-inspired materials and showing movies to students that questioned evolution.
Despite reprimands from former Superintendent Jeff Maley and two other administrators, Freshwater’s behavior continued, and grew more defiant over time, Shepherd wrote.
When asked to remove religious materials from his classroom on April 7, 2008, Freshwater did not immediately comply. Principal William White reportedly visited his classroom on several occasions to find Freshwater had only partially complied.
During that time, Freshwater checked out a bible from the school library and another book, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
The report dismissed the controversial claim against Freshwater for allegedly using a tesla coil on a student, leaving a cross-shaped burn mark as a matter that had already been dealt with by school administrators. It upheld a claim that he participated in a prayer during his tenure as adviser of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Mount Vernon City Schools Superintendent Steve Short said he received a copy of the report late Friday. He declined to comment on the findings.
"I wouldn't anticipate any comment or release of a statement from the board to be made until at least Monday or later," Short said.
Freshwater's minister, Pastor Don Matolyak of the Trinity Assembly of God Church, made a statement this morning on Freshwater's behalf.
"Since the board of education has to meet and make decision, John Freshwater is not going to be making any statements at this moment. This was predetermined that win or lose, he would wait until the process is completed," said Matolyak.
School board members will vote on whether to terminate Freshwater at a future meeting. The report's recommendations are not binding.