A school district is trying to move past an incident in which a teacher is accused of burning an image of a cross into the arm of an eighth grade student by settling the lawsuit his family filed. The case, out of Mount Vernon, Ohio, was settled by $121,000 settlement that the family agreed to. The child has not been identified and is identified only as James Doe.
In the agreement with the Mount Vernon school board, the family will be awarded $5,500 and the attorneys for the family would be awarded the rest, some $115,500. The settlement award, which was approved by the school board on Wednesday, August 26th, 2009, prevents the lawsuit from going to trial, which it was scheduled to do in May.
Another lawsuit is still pending against the same teacher, a man named John Freshwater. After an internal investigation was done on Mr. Freshwater, the school district voted to have him removed. The investigation found that he had preached his Christian beliefs to the students and that he had in fact used a high frequency generator to burn the student. The cross burned into the boy lasted for several weeks. Freshwater has in return filed his own lawsuit against the Mount Vernon school district. He claims that the firing was a violation of his free speech rights and his civil rights.
The lawsuit has been highly controversial in the area, and because of this, the family is currently moving out of the Mount Vernon school district, into a new district.
The entire incident has left the school district battling for funds. The ongoing hearing has lasted more than a year and has cost $300,000.
At a board meeting, after Mr. Freshwater was fired, he made a statement saying he never branded or burned any student. More than a dozen teachers have testified on behalf of Freshwater saying they never heard any complaints from his students. Two science teachers also testified saying that the same scientific device was used on students to demonstrate electrical current. Mr. Freshwater’s case is still pending.
If you are a school administrator with a question about student/teacher safety, special education, accommodations, student rights, free speech or discipline, feel free to call Richard Oppenheim at 818-461-8500. There is never a charge for an initial consultation and we can help you choose the best direction to resolve any school district issue.