Embarrassed school authorities in US are moving to fire an eighth grade teacher who branded cross on students' arms and preached Christianity in the classroom.
John Freshwater of Mount Vernon in Ohio, a science teacher for the past 21 years, used an "electrostatic device" to burn the religious symbols onto the arms of multiple students last December.
Freshwater told investigators the marks were X's, not crosses. But all of the students interviewed in the investigation reported being branded with crosses. The investigation report includes a photo of one student's arm with a long vertical line and a short horizontal line running through it, reports a local newspaper.
The family of one of the students so burned filed a federal lawsuit last week against Freshwater and the district, saying the student's civil rights were violated.
The branding caused pain to the student the night of the incident and leaving a mark that lasted for approximately 3 weeks.
It is also reported that Freshwater undermined science instruction in the public school district by discrediting evolution in his classroom and focusing on creationism and intelligent design.
Students taught by him had to be re-taught in high school what they were supposed to have learned in Freshwater's class, according to outside investigators hired by the district.
For 11 years, other teachers in the school district and people in the community complained about Freshwater preaching his Christian beliefs in class and slamming scientific theories, a school administrator told investigators.
"There is a significant amount of evidence that Freshwater's teachings regarding subjects related to evolution were not consistent with the curriculum of the Mount Vernon City Schools and state standards," the consultants reported.
Freshwater was told to stop teaching intelligent design and creationism, but he continued, the report found.
The attorney of the family suing the school authorities, Jessica Philemond, said it was "unfortunate" that the school district didn't do anything sooner to stop Freshwater.
"These concerns had been going on for at least 11 years, and the school had not done anything," she said.
A teacher who worked in Freshwater's classroom last year also reported to investigators that Freshwater told his class that homosexuality was a sin.
Neither Freshwater nor his attorney, Roger Weaver, could be reached for comment. But 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 said.
Daubenmire is a former London High School football coach whose district was sued in 1999 by the American Civil Liberties Union because he led his players in prayer at games, practices and meetings.
"Do you think there are other teachers in the public classroom that are trying to drive their opinions in the classroom?" Daubenmire asked. "I don't care who you are. You cannot separate your value system from your teaching."
The debate about Freshwater's actions became public in April after he refused to remove a Bible from his desk, as the district had ordered.
The report says he was insubordinate for failing to remove the Bible and other religious materials from his classroom but also found other issues about his teaching and behavior.