Teacher Booted for Displaying President's Picture
A New Jersey middle school teacher who displayed a portrait of the president of the United States in her classroom side-by-side with pictures of other U.S. presidents and the Declaration of Independence was thrown out of her school on Friday for refusing to take the Bush photo down.
"I'm requiring that you take the picture down," Shiba Pillai-Diaz says she was told by Mark Daniels, assistant principal at the Crossroads South Middle School in Monmouth Junction. The teacher refused and now faces dismissal for insubordination.
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According to Pillai-Diaz, who recounted the incident to WABC Radio's Steve Malzberg on Sunday, Daniels told her he had consulted with the school's principal, Jim Warfel.
The consensus: "We decided that there was a very destructive atmosphere in your classroom and that you're going around the school spreading your political views."
But Pillai-Diaz - an admitted Bush enthusiast who attended the GOP convention - said she leaves her politics at home when she comes to work. "I don't discuss politics [in my classroom]. I wouldn't go near it with a ten-foot pole," she told Malzberg.
The trouble started Thursday during parents night, when one mom complained about the Bush picture and demanded that Pillai-Diaz explain: "What is he doing up there? Don't you think you should have the other side also?"
"Having the picture up wasn't in any way political," she responded. "He's the current president. The picture was sent to my fourth-grade class last year."
The photo was "next to my desk on a bulletin board that had the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution [and] some printing from Ben Franklin's printing press" in a display that had nothing to do with politics, Pillai-Diaz told Malzberg.
After the initial complaints, parents e-mailed school officials claiming that the teacher had suppressed the free speech of her students - with some questioning why she liked George Bush even though "he's killed people."
In a Friday morning meeting with Principal Warfel, Pillai-Diaz says she was told: "You have caused more disruption to this school and to these students with your partisanship and your hatred and your inflammatory ways. Get yourself and get out of the building."
But Warfel may not have had the last word on the dispute. New Jersey Sen. Jon Corzine, who followed Pillai-Diaz on Malzberg's show, said Monmouth Junction school officials had gone overboard.
"If it's just a straight-up picture of George Bush and Laura, then I don't understand the issue at all," the leading Democrat said. "I don't see why [a picture] of the president of the United States can't be displayed."
Sen. Corzine promised to help Pillai-Diaz if she contacts his office.
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