Teacher drops lawsuit in burning crosses case

AP News
Posted: Oct 22, 2010 9:09 PM
Teacher drops lawsuit in burning crosses case

An Ohio public school teacher accused of burning the mark of a cross on students' arms said Friday he dropped a lawsuit over his firing because it would have interfered with a public airing of his complaint in a different venue.

John Freshwater and his wife, Nancy, said in a statement to The Associated Press that he had been offered financial settlements in his lawsuit against current and former Mount Vernon school board members. An attorney for the school board, however, said her clients never made a settlement offer and no money was on the table.

"We're dumbfounded," said Cleveland attorney Sarah Moore. "We can't even begin to speculate as to what he's trying to do."

Freshwater, who had worked for the district since 1987, has been suspended without pay since 2008.

The school board voted unanimously to fire him after an internal investigation concluded that he had preached Christian beliefs in class. He also was accused of using a scientific device to mark several students' arms with a cross and of keeping a Bible on his desk.

Fired Ohio teachers can appeal to an outside referee, which Freshwater did.

A referee conducted a hearing that concluded in August but has yet to release his decision. Freshwater said he was offered money to drop the lawsuit and leave the district, but he said a settlement would have ended the state proceeding before the referee could issue his decision.

"We have already spent our life savings and have pledged our farm to get to the truth," Freshwater said. "It is better to leave the money on the table than to take the Bible off of my desk."

A message left with Freshwater's attorney wasn't immediately returned.

In June, a court document indicated that Freshwater was in settlement talks with the district. At the time, Freshwater and the school board both asked a federal judge for a gag order ahead of confidential negotiations. No details of those negotiations were released.

Freshwater had claimed defamation and said he was harassed because of his religion and suffered a hostile work environment. He also claimed he faced discrimination because of his involvement with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes student group.

His $1 million lawsuit said an outside consultant's investigative report on Freshwater that was disseminated to the public was incomplete and contained "scandalous allegations" that could result in retaliation against him.

He originally sought $500,000 in lost wages, pension pay and lost opportunity costs and $500,000 in punitive damages. However, the notice of the dismissal filed Thursday did not involve any payments.

Mount Vernon is about 40 miles northeast of Columbus.