Ohio news: No creationist right to burn crosses on junior high science students

December 1, 2010

Oops!  Update and correction, from NCSE, applies equally here:

Update and correction (December 1, 2010): The case is apparently not officially settled after all. What was approved was not the overall proposed settlement, but the terms of the settlement as it concerns Zachary Dennis (a minor) — the “James Doe” of the suit — and it was approved not by the judge presiding over the case, Gregory L. Frost of the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, but by Licking County Probate Judge Robert Hoover, acting in his role as Juvenile Court Judge for the county. The settlement still needs to be approved by Judge Frost.

John Freshwater’s side finally agreed to a settlement in the suit against him and the local school district prompted by his using an electrical device, a small Tesla coil testing device, to burn crosses on the arms of students.  Thus mostly ends one of the more bizarre stories of creationism and misguided religion in a public school classroom.

Here is the entire story in all its anticlimactic wonder, from the Mount Vernon (Ohio) News:

Judge approves settlement in civil lawsuit

NEWARK — Licking County Probate Judge Robert Hoover on Nov. 23 approved a settlement agreement with regard to the civil lawsuit filed on behalf of Zachary Dennis against suspended Mount Vernon Middle School teacher John Freshwater.

The lawsuit was originally filed in the U.S District Court on June 13, 2008, and included as defendants the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education and various school employees. The suit alleged that Freshwater violated the constitutional rights of Zachary Dennis and those of his parents, Stephen and Jennifer Dennis, by, among other things, displaying religious items in his classroom, by teaching intelligent design and by expressing his own religious beliefs to students in the classroom.

The board’s portion of the lawsuit was resolved on or about Aug. 26, 2009, and Freshwater was the sole remaining defendant.

With Judge Hoover’s ruling last Tuesday, the suit against Freshwater was officially settled. The settlement of $475,000 to the Dennis family includes $25,000 for attorney fees, $150,000 each to Stephen and Jennifer, and $150,000 to be used for an annuity for Zachary.

At Panda’s Thumb, Richard B. Hoppe’s complete covering of the case notes that we still await the decision of the referee in the proceeding of John Freshwater’s appeal of his firing, and school board action on that recommendation.

At length, then, officially, it’s a bad idea for a creationist science teacher to burn crosses on the arms of supposedly-willing students using a Tesla coil, in any configuration. Yet to be determined:  May a school board fire a teacher who does that anyway?

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