Teacher accused of burning cross on kids' arms

June 20, 2008 5:23:18 PM PDT
Members of the Mount Vernon school board met Friday to discuss a finding that a middle school teacher preached his Christian beliefs despite staff complaints, even using a device to burn the image of a cross on students' arms. Mount Vernon Middle School teacher John Freshwater also taught creationism in his science class and was insubordinate in failing to remove a Bible and other religious materials from his classroom, a report by independent investigators said.

School board members gathered a day after consulting firm H.R. On Call Inc. released its report. It wasn't immediately clear what action, if any, officials in the community about 40 miles northeast of Columbus would take against Freshwater.

Superintendent Stephen Short declined to comment before the meeting. Freshwater's attorney, Roger Weaver, didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.

The report comes one week after a family filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Columbus against Freshwater and the school district, saying Freshwater burned a cross on their child's arm that remained for three or four weeks.

Freshwater's friend Dave Daubenmire defended him.

"With the exception of the cross-burning episode ... I believe John Freshwater is teaching the values of the parents in the Mount Vernon school district," he told The Columbus Dispatch for a story published Friday.

Several students interviewed by investigators described Freshwater, who has been employed by the district for 21 years, as a great guy.

But Lynda Weston, the district's director of teaching and learning, told investigators that she has dealt with complaints about Freshwater for much of her 11-year term at the district, the report said.

A former superintendent, Jeff Maley, said he tried to find another position for Freshwater but couldn't because he was certified only in science, the report said.

Freshwater used a science tool known as a high-frequency generator to burn images of a cross on students' arms in December, the report said. Freshwater told investigators he simply was trying to demonstrate the device on several students and described the images as an "X," not a cross. But pictures show a cross, the report said.

Other findings show that Freshwater taught that carbon dating was unreliable to argue against evolution.

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