Supreme Court sticks fork in John Freshwater dismissal case

JISHOU, HUNAN — Seven years! This case has been dragging on for seven years, and now maybe we will never need to read about John Freshwater in the news again. His last chance to have the courts reinstate him as a science teacher in Ohio ended in defeat this week. The US Supreme Court has let stand a lower court decision that Freshwater’s former employers, the Mount Vernon, Ohio, school district, had cause to fire him for insubordination for refusing to remove religious materials from his classroom. Freshwater’s lawyers argued that the district had infringed his First Amendment rights, and wanted to Court to hear their case. The Justices were apparently unimpressed with this argument, and denied his writ of certiorari — basically, a request that the Court hear his appeal.. Freshwater was a seventh-grade science teacher who had a few bad practices. Judging from the testimony of former students and co-workers during a lengthy administrative hearing, he had a long history of teaching Creationism in his class, leading his students to doubt the validity of evolution and the Big Bang theory, and pushing his conservative Christian faith in class. Unsaid and unexamined was the district’s seeming tolerance of this ...

Ohio science/religion teacher Freshwater loses yet again

JISHOU, HUNAN — So, here’s the short version. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled, 4-3, last week that the Mount Vernon School District was well within its rights to fire teacher John Freshwater for insubordination, given that he repeatedly ignored orders to remove religious material from his classroom and from his teaching. The court’s ruling, however, sidestepped the thornier underlying question of how much discussion of creationism and Intelligent Design may be permissible in a science classroom. That question in fact was a large part of Freshwater’s appeal of a lower court’s decision. And the court’s failure to address the issue drew sharp words from the three dissenting judges. Writing for the dissent, Justice Paul E. Pfeifer writes: {¶ 105} What next? With the insubordination claim gutted, the lead opinion should have moved on to consider the constitutional issues remaining in the case. Instead, the majority walks away from the opportunity to provide helpful guidance to every school board in Ohio and to the thousands of great teachers who could benefit from knowing more about the extent of and limits on their academic freedom. Justice O’Donnell’s well-reasoned dissent addresses the issue, but goes unrebutted. In short, the majority shrinks from the ...

John Freshwater: the gift that keeps on giving 5

JISHOU, HUNAN — Back when I was a science teacher, I started blogged about an Ohio public school science teacher who got in hot water for (1) allegedly using a Tesla coil on his students, (2) teaching evolution was false and (3) going overboard with his religious proselytizing in the classroom. Without going into a lot of details, let’s just say that teacher, John Freshwater of Mount Vernon, was removed from classroom teaching pending an administrative hearing about insubordination. After a two-year-long administrative hearing process, Freshwater lost his job earlier this year. He and the Mount Vernon school system were also named in a federal discrimination complaint brought by a student’s family; the school district settled out of court and Freshwater, following an unsuccessful appeal, also had to pay damages to the family. Meanwhile, he filed, and later dropped, his own discrimination complaint in federal court against the school system. So, after all these proceedings which suggest that Freshwater was to some degree culpable, I learn that he has the nerve to play the victim card on David Barton and Rick Green’s WallBuilders Live radio program. Here’s a partial transcript, courtesy of Right Wing Watch. Freshwater: When the 2007/2008 school ...

The Ballad of John Freshwater finally ends

JISHOU, HUNAN — Like the fabled “Song That Never Ends,” the story of John Freshwater, a middle school Ohio science teacher bent on proselytizing his students, seems to have gone on and on and on … The end is this: he will be dismissed from his teaching job at the Mount Vernon public schools. Actually, that’s the same ending as before, but he was entitled to an administrative hearing, which dragged on for almost two years. In a decision released this week, the referee for the hearing agreed with the school district, and said, “Yup, Freshwater is out.” 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. John Freshwater refused and/or failed to employ objectivity in his instruction of a variety of science subjects and, in so doing, endorsed a particular religious doctrine. By this course of conduct John Freshwater repeatedly violated the Establishment Clause. Without question, the repeated violation of the Constitution of The United States is a “fairly serious matter” and is, therefore, a valid basis for termination of John Freshwater’s contract(s). Further, he repeatedly acted ...

Proselytizing teachers need to stuff it

JISHOU, HUNAN — Public school teachers — in fact most teachers — should just shut up about their religious preferences. Proselytizing is an abuse of their “bully pulpit.” The Panda’s Thumb has two articles this week demonstrating the misuse of teacherly authority. One is an update on the ever-continuing John Freshwater saga; the other a report on one teacher’s attempt to haul students to the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Freshwater is a seventh-grade science teacher in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, who has paraded his particular brand of Christianity — and anti-evolution propaganda — in front of his students for several years. His superiors looked the other way until Freshwater used a Tesla coil to burn a cross shape on the arm of a student. The student and his parents cried foul, and the parties involved are now in a legal thicket. Freshwater has been the subject of hours of administrative hearings regarding his continued employment. The boy and his family have filed a civil liberties suit against Freshwater and the school system. Freshwater himself has filed his own civil liberties suit against his employers, and another civil suit against the family, alleging they have slandered him. During the administrative hearings, witnesses ...

What is up with Ohio?

JISHOU, HUNAN — It’s either her prom or your graduation, a Christian high school in Findlay, Ohio, has told Tyler Frost, 17. If Frost goes to his girlfriend’s prom at the worldly Findlay High School, Heritage Christian School will suspend him, thereby depriving Frost of the chance to participate in his graduation ceremony. The boy, bless his little romantic heart, plans to attend his girlfriend’s prom anyway. He’s never been to a dance before. Attaboy, Tyler! Heritage Christian School, a Baptist torture chamber prison camp gulag school, forbids dancing, rock music, hand-holding and kissing, I guess because Jesus didn’t do that kind of worldly stuff. I have my doubts about that. There’s that whole thing about water into wine… Anyway, Frost followed the rules for Findlay High and got his principal’s permission to attend the bacchanalia orgy Animal House party prom. “I expected a short lecture about making the right decisions and not doing something stupid,” Frost said. “I thought I would get his signature and that would be the end.” [Heritage Principal Tim] England acknowledged signing the form but warned Frost there would be consequences if he attended the dance. England then took the issue to a school committee ...

Iowa ‘academic freedom’ bill dies a quiet death 2

JISHOU, HUNAN — Yet another attempt to weasel creationism/Intelligent Design into public schools has died after an “academic freedom” bill failed to leave a subcommittee in the Iowa legislature yesterday. The bill purportedly would have protected instructors from punishment or job loss if they presented “scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution.” In fact, it was a ploy to enable suitably minded instructors to teach creationism or ID alongside evolutionary theory. Wording that is almost identical appears on a web page sponsored by the Discovery Institute, a pro-ID “thinktank.” Full details are at The Panda’s Thumb. Lest you think the bill might have had merit, allow me to provide a brief introduction to “creation science.” ID is just a variation of creationism, accepting an older age of the universe. Creationism holds that: The account in Genesis is literal and true. God created everything in six days, about 6,000 years ago. Before Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, all animals were vegetarians, death was non-existent, and predation/parasitism were unnecessary. God got pissed at Adam and Eve, and that wily serpent in the Tree, and cursed ...

John Freshwater is a menace 2

The Panda’s Thumb has been keeping a close tab on Ohio science teacher/religious fanatic John Freshwater even since he got into trouble last year, allegedly burning a cross on a student’s arm with a Tesla coil. Freshwater and school officials have been making their cases in adiministrative hearings since then. There have been six days of testimony so far, spread over several months. So far, the testimony suggests Freshwater was an insubordinate teacher who resisted his superiors’ efforts to bring him in line, perhaps because he believed God’s authority trumped theirs. Members of the science department were supposed to bring their Tesla coils to the front office; Freshwater kept his. He was supposed to remove his Bible from plain sight of students; he put additional religious materials in his classroom instead. Ohio’s scope and sequence of science instruction places the teaching of evolution in the 8th grade and later, and forbids the teaching of creationism; Freshwater was telling his seventh graders that evolution was bunk, that the world was only 6,000 years old, and that humans and dinosaurs co-existed for a time. Freshwater, who apparently is a very popular teacher and has won teaching awards in the past, is associated ...

That evangelical Ohio science guy

John Freshwater had his first day of an administrative hearing today, to determine whether he should keep his job. The Panda’s Thumb has a detailed account, if you’re interested.

A fox in the henhouse

JISHOU, HUNAN — The border police in Berkeley, California, must have been napping. A proselytizing teacher slipped into town long enough to traumatize her class of eight-year-olds. She told them that Harry Potter, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus were ALL fictional characters, and that God was the only thing they should believe in. Nice. And I wonder what grade she got in ed psych? She also reportedly told her third graders that she didn’t believe in evolution or the Big Bang either. I suppose none were able to shoot back a counter-argument, since they were all in tears about the Santa Claus/Easter Bunny revelation. The teacher, a new hire over the summer, is now being investigated by the Berkeley Unified School District for possibly (!) violating laws against the separation of Church and State. The details are here. I’m not sure which is worse, burning a cross onto a teenager’s arm with a Tesla coil or demolishing an eight-year-old’s belief in Santa and the Easter Bunny. Is the US this desperate for teachers? Thanks for Pharyngula for this story.

Catching up on the news Stateside

JISHOU, HUNAN — Last spring, I was following the case of one John Freshwater, an Ohio science teacher accused of proselytizing his seventh-graders a little too zealously. Freshwater was relieved of his duties when an unnamed student and his parents filed suit, charging Freshwater with civil rights violations. Freshwater allegedly burned a cross on the student’s arm with a Tesla coil, a common science lab demo device that generally should be kept far from human flesh. (I speak from personal experience.) Anyway, this teacher, who subscribes to some kind of wacko right-wing Christianity, wants the names of the student and his parents made public. In a town where folks are already polarized over Freshwater’s “I will keep a Bible in the classroom no matter what” crusade, revealing the names of the family would be tantamount to inviting people to burn crosses in their front yard. Yeah, it’s that bad in mid-Ohio. Land of the free, and all that. Ed Brayton at Scienceblogs has the gory details.

Mid-Ohio science teacher to lose job — finally 1

John Freshwater will burn crosses on students’ arms no more (see picture released by school officials to the AP, at right), at least in Mount Vernon, Ohio. He has been sacked. On Friday, the Mount Vernon school board reviewed a 15-page investigative report on Freshwater’s actions in the classroom, and voted to dismiss the science teacher of 21 years. Freshwater had been accused, among other things, of using a Tesla coil to burn a cross in a student’s arm, proselytizing students, teaching creationism contrary to school policy, and refusing to remove a Bible from his desk. He and school officials still face legal action. The family of the student whose arm was burned filed a civil complaint in US District Court in Columbus last week, naming Freshwater and school officials as defendants. The law suit alleges Freshwater’s religious activities in the classroom violated the civil rights of the student, known only as John Doe. The complaint also alleges school officials failed to reprimand Freshwater sufficiently after the arm-burning incident, and permitted him to proselytize students in class in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Freshwater, a fundamentalist Christian by all appearances, became a poster child for the ...
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