MOUNT VERNON — In a decision released this morning, Knox County Common Pleas Court Judge Otho Eyster upheld the Mount Vernon School Board’s decision to fire former middle school science teacher John Freshwater.
Since the board’s decision was based on the recommendation of contract termination hearing officer R. Lee Shepherd, Eyster’s job in considering Freshwater’s appeal was to determine whether or not Shepherd’s decision was valid, illegal, unconstitutional or unlawful.
To that end, Eyster reviewed 6,344 pages of transcripts and approximately 350 exhibits from the hearing, as well as transcripts from board of education meetings and board resolutions. He then determined that Shepherd’s decision was valid.
In a journal entry, Eyster wrote, “there is clear and convincing evidence to support the Board of Education’s termination of Freshwater’s contract(s) for good and just cause.”
Eyster also denied Freshwater’s request that the court conduct additional hearings and ordered Freshwater to pay the costs of the appeal proceedings.
Freshwater did not return requests from the News for comment as of press time.
The history of the case:
In April 2008, the school board launched an investigation into allegations of misconduct on Freshwater’s part. The investigation by an outside agency was completed in June, and, responding to information as a result of the investigation, the school board passed a resolution of intent to terminate Freshwater’s teaching contract.
As allowed by law, Freshwater requested a hearing to contest the board’s decision. That hearing began in October 2008 and continued sporadically until it was officially concluded in January 2011. The hearing referee R. Lee Shepherd at that time recommended that Freshwater’s contract be terminated.
The Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education formally terminated Freshwater’s teaching contract in January 2011, and Freshwater filed an appeal with the Knox County Common Pleas Court.
In March, the school board filed a petition to remove the case to federal court and that was approved. The appeal was moved back to Knox County in April and became part of Judge Eyster’s docket.