Ohio board votes to fire teacher accused of preaching to students

By The Associated Press
06.24.08

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Mount Vernon school board in central Ohio voted 5-0 late on June 20 to move ahead on firing a science teacher after an investigation concluded that he preached his Christian beliefs in class and used a device to burn the image of a cross on students' arms.

The board's attorney, David Millstone, said John Freshwater would be entitled to a hearing to challenge the dismissal.

Kelly Hamilton, who represents Freshwater, told the Mount Vernon News he would request such a hearing and that Freshwater denied any wrongdoing.

School board members took up the issue one day after consulting firm H.R. On Call Inc. released its report on the teacher's case.

The report was released one week after a family filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Columbus against Freshwater and the school district, saying Freshwater burned a cross on their child's arm that remained for three or four weeks.

Freshwater's friend Dave Daubenmire defended him.

"With the exception of the cross-burning episode ... I believe John Freshwater is teaching the values of the parents in the Mount Vernon school district," he told The Columbus Dispatch for a June 20 story.

Several students interviewed by investigators described Freshwater, who has been employed by the school district for 21 years, as a "great guy" and their "favorite teacher." But Lynda Weston, the district's director of teaching and learning, told investigators that she has dealt with complaints about Freshwater for much of her 11 years at the district.

A former superintendent, Jeff Maley, said he tried to find another position for Freshwater but couldn't because Freshwater was certified only in science, the report said.

Freshwater used a science tool known as a high frequency generator to burn images of a cross on students' arms in December, the report states. Freshwater told investigators he simply was trying to demonstrate the device on three to eight students and described the images an "X'' not a cross. But pictures show the images depict a cross, the report said.

Other findings show Freshwater taught the unreliability of carbon dating in support of opposition to evolution. He also told his class that homosexuality is a sin.

Mount Vernon is about 40 miles northeast of Columbus.