MOUNT VERNON — R. Lee Shepherd, hearing referee, has determined the Mount Vernon City Board of Education has “good and just cause” to terminate the teaching contract of suspended middle school teacher John Freshwater.
After an investigation by an independent company, the board in 2008 voted to consider firing Freshwater. As allowed by law, Freshwater demanded a public hearing to contest the board’s decision. Shepherd was the appointed referee for that hearing, which included testimony from current and present school administrators, faculty, students, community members, expert witnesses and Freshwater.
The hearing proceeded sporadically from 2008, through 2009 and 2010 until Shepherd declared it closed on Jan. 6, 2011.
Shepherd’s report addressed four specific areas the board said were grounds for contract termination: Injuring a student by improperly using a high-frequency electrical devise [referred to as a Tesla coil throughout the hearing]; failure to adhere to the established curriculum; failure to follow the guidelines as the faculty monitor of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes; and disobedience of orders.
Regarding the electrical device, Shepherd wrote, “There was a plausible explanation for how and why the Tesla Coil had been used by John Freshwater.” He further stated that the matter was handled by the school administration and concluded, “That case was closed.”
Acknowledging that Freshwater was a successful and popular eighth-grade science teacher, Shepherd wrote Freshwater was not satisfied with that.
“John Freshwater was determined to inject his personal religious beliefs into his plan and pattern of instruction of his students. In so doing, he exceeded the bounds of all the pertinent bylaws and/or policies of the Mount Vernon City School District,” Shepherd said in his report.
In a different setting, Shepherd said, Freshwater’s fervent and deep-seated Christian beliefs would be admirable, but “proved to be Freshwater’s downfall as an eighth-grade teacher in a public school. Time after time he injected his beliefs as associated with his own religious tenets into his science instruction. ... John Freshwater not only injected his subjective, biased Christian religion based, non-scientific opinion into the instruction of eighth-grade science students, but also gave those students reason to doubt the accuracy and/or veracity of scientists, science textbooks, and/or science in general.”
Concerning his role as monitor of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Shepherd determined that Freshwater “did not follow the guidelines implicitly.” He added, “ There is ample evidence that John Freshwater knew or should have known of the mandates and restrictions and that he knowingly or recklessly violated them.”
Shepherd wrote that Freshwater did not just disobey orders to remove religious materials from his classroom, his act of noncompliance “appears to have been one of defiance, disregard, and resistance.”
In conclusion, Shepherd wrote, “It is not determined whether any one of the bases/grounds for consideration of termination would be sufficient in and of itself, however, the multiple incidents which gave rise to the numerous and various bases/grounds more than suffice in support of termination. ... My recommendation to the Board of Education of the Mount Vernon City School District is that the Board terminate John Freshwater’s contract(s) for ‘good and just cause.’”
Board president Margie Bennett told the News on Saturday that the matter will be discussed at tonight’s school board meeting. It is unclear whether action will be taken at that time.
Freshwater’s wife, Nancy, told the News this morning her husband would not make any comment on the matter until the board of education makes its decision.