MOUNT VERNON, Ohio — Supporters of John Freshwater stood in a parking lot yesterday asking God to inspire the school board to make the right decision.
Three hours later, the board announced that it intends to fire Freshwater, an eighth-grade science teacher.
Freshwater preached his Christian beliefs about how the world began, discredited evolution and didn’t teach the required science curriculum, the board says. He was told to stop teaching creationism and intelligent design, but he continued to do so, an investigation found.
“We’re all Christian people. … But rules are rules. You just can’t do that in a public school,” said Karen McClure, a Mount Vernon resident who was at yesterday’s meeting to support her daughter, school board member Jolene Goetzman.
McClure was one of about 60 people at the meeting in the Mount Vernon Middle School library. Most were Freshwater supporters.
Freshwater burned crosses onto the arms of some of his students and told them that gays are sinners, the school board said in a resolution the five members passed unanimously yesterday after meeting privately to discuss the results of an investigation.
Freshwater’s actions became public in April after he refused to remove a Bible from his desk. Yesterday, his attorney, R. Kelly Hamilton, focused on the Bible in characterizing Freshwater as a victim who’s being denied his Constitutional right to practice his beliefs.
“They have to tear him up, beat him up, to distract from the issue of the Bible on the desk,” Hamilton said.
Freshwater will request a hearing before the school board to contest the firing, Hamilton said.
After learning of the board’s decision, Freshwater called the consultants’ report half-truths and said he never veered from the state standards for teaching science.
High-school science teachers told consultants that Freshwater’s teachings were undermining science instruction in the district. They reported having to re-teach scientific concepts to students who took Freshwater’s class.
Complaints about Freshwater’s teachings were made by teachers and people in the community for at least 11 years, a school administrator told consultants. Freshwater has taught eighth-grade science in the district for 21 years.
In April, the school board hired HR On Call Inc. to investigate Freshwater, four months after the parents of a child in his class said he had burned a cross into the child’s arm, causing swelling and blistering.
Hamilton called the complaints “fabrications created by a couple of students. … Not a single child has ever been harmed,” he said.
The family of the boy filed a lawsuit last week against Freshwater and district officials, claiming the boy’s civil rights were violated.
The branding was done with a machine used to show characteristics of gases.
In Mount Vernon, the public debate over Freshwater is reflected in signs on the road, one saying that if the school board made Freshwater remove his Bible from his classroom, the community would get rid of the school board.
“It saddens us that we’re at this point,” said Mary Lou Sinzinger, a Freshwater supporter. “This God-fearing community is one of the reasons we moved here.”