Settlement in Freshwater case

The judge presiding over Doe v. Mount Vernon Board of Education et al. approved a proposed settlement in the case on November 23, 2010, according to the Mount Vernon News (November 30, 2010). The case centered on John Freshwater, a Mount Vernon, Ohio, middle school science teacher, who was accused of inappropriate religious activity in the classroom — including displaying posters with the Ten Commandments and Bible verses, branding crosses on the arms of his students with a high-voltage electrical device, and teaching creationism.

The News reports, "With Judge Hoover's ruling last Tuesday, the suit against Freshwater was officially settled. The settlement of $475,000 to the Dennis family [who originally filed suit under the pseudonym "Doe"] includes $25,000 for attorney fees, $150,000 each to Stephen and Jennifer, and $150,000 to be used for an annuity for Zachary." A previous report from the News (October 27, 2010) indicated that the school district's insurer, Ohio Casualty, will be liable for the payment, since Freshwater was employed by the district when the suit was filed.

The district was originally named in the lawsuit, but a settlement was reached in August 2009, leaving Freshwater as the sole defendant. Freshwater filed his own lawsuit against the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education in June 2009, but then filed a notice to dismiss it in October 2010, claiming that it would have interfered with the administrative hearing on the termination of his employment with the district, which was conducted intermittently from October 2008 to June 2010. The referee presiding over the hearing has yet to release his decision.

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.