MOUNT VERNON — On Tuesday afternoon, John Freshwater, on his own behalf, filed a complaint, which could also be considered an appeal, with the Knox County Common Pleas Court. Formerly a teacher at Mount Vernon Middle School, he is asking the court for a reversal of the Mount Vernon school board’s decision to terminate his teaching contract.
Following complaints by parents of a student in Freshwater’s eighth-grade science class, the school board, in April 2008, employed an independent firm to investigate the allegations. That investigation was completed in June 2008, and the school board suspended Freshwater and notified him of its intention to terminate his teaching contract.
Freshwater, as allowed by law, requested a public hearing to contest the board’s decision, and in October 2008 the hearing process started under the jurisdiction of hearing referee R. Lee Shepherd. The hearing continued sporadically until it was officially closed on Jan. 6, 2011. The school board then fired Freshwater at a school board meeting on Jan. 10. Freshwater had 30 days to appeal the termination of his contract.
According to documents obtained from the court, Freshwater is also requesting unspecified “monetary damages, damages for defamation, false light, emotional distress, constitutional violations, reinstatement to his teaching position and other relief.”
The 33-page complaint alleges, in part:
•The board’s actions breached the master contract.
•Additional pertinent information has become available since the close of the hearing.
•The hearing referee made numerous errors.
•Allegations made against him were not proved by the required burden of proof.
•The board failed to give Freshwater an opportunity to object to the referee’s findings or recommendations.
•The board’s action against Freshwater is discriminatory and against public policy.
•The board showed bias and hostility toward Christianity.
•Creationism and intelligent design are not religious, as the board claimed.
•The referee recommended, and the board terminated Freshwater’s contract “simply because they desire to suppress what they perceive as a Christian viewpoint.”
When contacted by the News on Thursday afternoon, Superintendent of Schools Steve Short said the administration and board had received a copy of the suit late Thursday morning and had not yet had the opportunity to review the documents.
The board’s lawyer, Sarah Moore, an attorney with Britton, Smith, Peters and Kalai, said the board is reviewing the documents in order to determine a response, and added, “we are not aware of any hearing date at this point.”
Calls requesting comment were not returned by Freshwater as of press time.