Not sure what the whole story is but there seems to be 'more' to it. From: South Brunswick School District
October 3, 2004
District Statement Regarding Bulletin Board at Crossroads Middle School
In an incident that has recently been reported to several media sources, a claim has been made by South Brunswick Middle School teacher Shiba Pillai-Diaz, that she was fired for not removing a picture of President George W. Bush from a classroom bulletin board. The claim is false. While I am normally reluctant to discuss personnel matters in public, Ms. Pillai-Diaz’ distortions of the facts, along with her aggressive efforts to get herself national media attention, leaves the district no choice but to set the record straight.
The facts are as follows:
Ms. Pillai-Diaz is a new Language Arts teacher in the South Brunswick Schools. Recently, the school administration began receiving complaints from students and parents that Ms. Pillai-Diaz was using her position, classroom and teaching time to engage in partisan politics. Students reported that she had made statements which denigrated one party over the other. The conversations included Ms. Pillai-Diaz telling some students who offered opinions contrary to her statements, that she was “glad they were not old enough to vote.” Other comments to students, including such statements as, “you should be ashamed to be a Democrat” have been verified through student interviews.
A classroom bulletin board, normally intended for curriculum-related matters, was set up as what she herself described as a “personal bulletin board.” On the bulletin board she placed a picture of the President, the President's dog, the Oval Office and several other Presidential artifacts. In addition, she placed a stuffed elephant on a classroom cabinet, which generated student reaction and discussion about partisan politics.
Following receipt of complaints from parents, the Assistant Principal met with Ms. Pillai-Diaz and cautioned her not to engage in partisan political discussions in her Language Arts classes. He did not initially ask her to remove the picture of the President. As the issue grew in intensity, the teacher herself chose to remove the stuffed elephant because of student comments. In the ensuing days, parents expressed increasing concern about the teacher's classroom behavior, the misuse of classroom instructional time and the personal bulletin board. The level of concern resulted in a classroom confrontation between some parents and Ms. Pillai-Diaz at the Back-to-School night program. It was at this point that the school administration decided to intervene again.
On Friday morning, October 1, Ms. Pillai-Diaz was directed by the Assistant Principal to remove bulletin board materials because they were being viewed as contributing to an ongoing disruption of the teaching-learning environment. She refused. She then met with the Principal who repeated the directive. At this point, Ms. Pillai-Diaz abruptly left the building, abandoning her post of duty and her classroom responsibilities.
At no time was she told to leave, asked to leave or given authorization to leave. School was still in session. At no time was she told she was suspended or fired. With professional responsibilities of a classroom teacher waiting, Ms. Pillai-Diaz chose, of her own volition, to walk out of the school, contact various media sources and claim she had been fired.
I had occasion to meet with Ms. Pillai-Diaz, along with a union representative and a police escort that she had requested, for approximately two hours when she returned to the building later that same afternoon. After listening to her story, I asked if any member of the administration had used the phrase "you're fired" or anything that remotely sounded like it. She admitted that no one had used any such language. When I further pursued why she reported to media sources that she had been fired, she said that she "thought" that she had been. I explained that principals cannot fire employees, that only Boards of Education can do so. With her union representative present, she said that she now understood. I asked that when she next spoke with the media, that she clarify her new understanding.
I fully support the actions of the Principal and Assistant Principal. It is never acceptable for a teacher to utilize the classroom to advocate for political purposes or advance personal beliefs. The courts have always admonished teachers for proselytizing in public school classrooms. This issue is not about a picture of the President, but rather a zealous misuse of seventh and eighth grade student instructional time.
The South Brunswick School community is enormously respectful of the Office of the President of the United States, President Bush and the democratic process for choosing our President. Anyone trying to suggest the contrary has the worst of intentions. Under other circumstances, the display of a picture of the President would have been viewed as completely appropriate and uncontroversial. It is important to note that pictures of President Bush are openly displayed in all of the South Brunswick Schools. The teacher’s own actions here, however, took it out of the realm of education and made the presentation appear partisan to many of our students and parents. Under these circumstances, our actions in directing the removal of the display were singularly appropriate.
Gary P. McCartney Ed D.
Superintendent of Schools
South Brunswick School District