MOUNT VERNON — Meeting in special session Wednesday night, the Mount Vernon Board of Education resolved a federal lawsuit filed by a family that alleged civil rights violation. The family alleged that middle school science teacher John Freshwater displayed religious materials and taught religion, in violation of the U.S. Constitution and school policy.
The school board, Superintendent Steve Short and middle school principal William White were named in the case because they allegedly allowed Freshwater to continue to teach religion after being notified of the policy violations and unconstitutional activities.
A statement released by the board stated, “Being in the business of educating children, the board recognizes the need to remain focused on what is best for the students of this district.
“For the past year and a few months, a federal lawsuit has been pending against the board, superintendent, middle school principal and middle school teacher by the Doe family. Pending approval by the Knox County Probate Court, the board’s insurance carrier has resolved the lawsuit on behalf of the board, superintendent and middle school principal with the Doe family.
“There have been no admissions of liability by the board, superintendent, and Middle School Principal. The resolution of the lawsuit against the board, superintendent and middle school principal has no impact or bearing on the pending administrative hearing with respect to the middle school teacher’s employment. Due to pending litigation, the board will not be commenting further.”
The settlement agreement, which does not apply to co-defendant Freshwater, must be filed with and approved by the Probate Court of Knox County. Then a motion for dismissal will be filed with the federal district court.
According to the settlement agreement, which has not yet been approved by the court, the board’s insurance company has agreed to pay $115,500 toward the plaintiffs’ legal fees, $5,500 to one of the plaintiffs as compensation and the sum of $1 each to two other individuals.
The school board also agreed to :
•Prohibit staff from discussing the John Freshwater case with or in the presence of students during the school day and at school activities.
•Provide training to board members and administrators concerning religion and the school, and provide training to teachers on the same topic. This training was done on Aug. 18. Additional training will also be provided on the First Amendment, religion and public education.
•Make a public statement at the conclusion of the Freshwater administrative hearing.