MOUNT VERNON — John Freshwater filed a request with the Supreme Court of Ohio Friday, asking the body to overturn decisions by the Knox County Court of Common Pleas and the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals and to examine civil liberty components that have not been previously reviewed by lower courts. The two previous courts upheld the Mount Vernon City School District’s termination of Freshwater’s employment as a middle school science teacher.
The brief submitted to the Ohio Supreme Court asserts that Freshwater was fired because he failed to adhere to the established curriculum and because he was insubordinate. However, the appeal states, the contract termination violated Freshwater’s [and his students’] First Amendment rights of free speech and “academic freedom” because Freshwater was neutral toward religion and was merely providing the students with “academic theories” consistent with “certain religious traditions.” Freshwater argues he provided theories outside the curriculum to create a dialogue and allow students the opportunity to think for themselves.
“This is a case of first impression in Ohio involving venerable principles of academic freedom and freedom from religious hostility,” the document states. “Its outcome holds significant implications for teachers’ rights of free speech, free exercise, and equal protection under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. If the decisions below are left standing, local school boards will henceforth be empowered to terminate the employment of public teachers who proficiently teach all required curriculum merely because they include additional, age-appropriate information to broaden their students’ understanding of the curriculum.”
Freshwater also argues that the board did not provide a list of “unacceptable” materials or teaching methods.
“It was Freshwater’s encouragement of students to open-mindedly consider competing theories — his very neutrality toward religion — that has let to the termination of his employment contract,” court documents state.
The brief also claims the school board is hostile toward religion and thus fired Freshwater because he publicly expressed his personal religious beliefs.
The brief was filed by Freshwater’s attorney R. Kelly Hamilton.
Outline of the events leading up to the latest filing:
•In April 2008, the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education authorized an independent firm to launch an investigation into Freshwater’s conduct and the materials he used in his eighth-grade science classroom.
•Based on the investigative findings, the board, in June 2008, passed a resolution of intent to terminate Freshwater’s teaching contract.
•Freshwater requested a hearing on the matter and, in October 2008, a hearing conducted by an impartial referee was initiated.
•In 2009, Freshwater filed a $1 million civil suit with the United States District Court. In that suit, he basically said the school board and others conspired and discriminated against him because of his religious beliefs. That suit was dismissed with prejudice in October 2010.
•The contract termination hearing was officially closed in January 2011 and the referee recommended that Freshwater’s contract be terminated. The board did so that same month.
•In February 2011, Freshwater filed an appeal with the Knox County Court of Common Pleas and in October 2011 that appeal was denied by Judge Otho Eyster.
•Freshwater appealed to the Fifth Appellate District Court of Appeals, and in March 2012, that court upheld Eyster’s ruling on the matter.