Bowing to concerns that her presence poses a safety risk, the wife of Vincennes skipper Will Rogers III has agreed to quit her fourth-grade teaching post at the exclusive private La Jolla school where she has taught for 12 years, school officials announced Thursday.
“To ensure the safety of the children, the confidence of the parents and the integrity of the educational environment of La Jolla Country Day school, Mrs. Rogers and the school have reached a mutual decision that she will not be returning to the campus,” said Jim Stewart, the school’s development officer.
Stewart declined to comment on the deliberations leading to the decision, which was announced after school trustees convened an emergency meeting Thursday morning to discuss Sharon Rogers’ future at the private school and recent measures to beef up security at the campus. He also declined to comment on the terms of her departure.
But he added that school officials consulted with Mrs. Rogers Thursday before announcing the decision, which he said precludes the popular elementary school teacher from returning even next fall.
The decision drew a mixed response from La Jolla Country Day parents, many of whom consider Mrs. Rogers an outstanding teacher but also were concerned about the safety of their children if she returned.
The school’s dilemma also provided grist for local morning radio talk shows, during which callers wondered whether the Navy wife wasn’t being made the victim for a second time because a pipe bomb went off under her car last week.
The crude bomb exploded under Mrs. Rogers’ Toyota van while she was driving from her La Jolla home to the campus on Genesee Avenue last Friday. She escaped injury when she got out of the vehicle after hearing popping noises, which she thought were caused by another car rear-ending hers.
The incident--which the FBI is investigating as a possible terrorist retribution for the mistaken downing last July of an Iranian civilian airliner by the guided missile cruiser Vincennes--prompted administrators at the normally quiet La Jolla campus to put Mrs. Rogers on leave, hire security guards for the front gate and have the classrooms checked each morning for bombs before students arrive.
Safety concerns were heightened Tuesday, when the school received a bomb threat, and the incident helped fuel worries among parents about student safety.
San Diego police officials said Thursday they were never consulted by school officials on whether the teacher posed a threat to student safety.
A spokesman for the Naval Investigative Service, which is providing security for Mrs. Rogers and her husband, said Thursday that the NIS played no part in Sharon Rogers’ decision not to return to the school, and that the matter was resolved solely between the school and Sharon Rogers. “We were not a part of that decision at all,” the spokesman said.
Paul Leonard, a Washington aide to Rep. Bill Lowery (R-San Diego), said he talked Thursday with headmaster Timothy Burns about the school’s decision to drop Sharon Rogers from the faculty. The decision, he said, was based on “concern among the parents of the students, the head master and the board of trustees. . .”
“They had no direct information the school was being targeted by anyone,” Leonard said. “It was just the uncertainty, and they felt it was causing too much pressure on the academic environment. They felt they couldn’t hold classes properly.”
Parent Says School Was Aware of Risks
Yet one parent, whose son is in Mrs. Rogers’ class, said school officials well knew the risks of employing the popular teacher in the wake of the July incident involving the Vincennes.
“They analyzed the situation quite carefully and made a decision last September to bring Sharon back to the school,” said Richard Levin, president and publisher of the La Jolla Blue Book, a directory for the wealthy community.
“The final decision to bring her back as a teacher was made shortly before the school started because they were concerned about the same things,” he said.
Levin said the schools’ decision on Thursday was the “safe thing to do, but not the right thing to do.”
Asking Mrs. Rogers not to come back would make the entire ordeal worse for the fourth-graders, said Levin, who characterized the teacher as a “very caring, concerned” educator.
“It makes the impact of this incident all the more significant and difficult for them than if she had returned to teach,” he said. “Now they’re stuck with three months of school left with substitute teachers . . . .”
Another parent said the decision to let Mrs. Rogers go was “sort of a necessary evil.”
“I didn’t feel real threatened in the first place, but I feel relieved that they reached that decision,” said Jean Andrews, a local political consultant whose son was in Mrs. Rogers’ class last year. “I’m concerned about her as a teacher. Where does she go? I consider her a victim as much as anybody.”
Mrs. Rogers and her husband have been under the protection of the NIS at an undisclosed location away from their home since the bombing.
Levin said school administrators reacted well to the turmoil following last Friday’s bombing, even bringing a psychologist into his son’s class this week to see if any of the students were having nightmares.
Administrators sent letters home Wednesday explaining why they decided not to immediately inform parents about Tuesday’s bomb threat, which was reported by the news media.
“Alerting students with a letter that described the details of a bomb threat would have created more fears on a campus already filled with tension,” said the letter, signed by Burns. “We also received advice from authorities that, since safety had been assured, we would be wise to consider not making an issue of the threat.”
Reporters learned of the threat by monitoring local police transmissions, not from the school, the letter said.
“Both local and national press continue to attempt to draw our school and its name into issues which I feel are quite separate from us,” Burns wrote. “I want you to know that we will continue to resist this, and I trust that all parents, faculty and students will do the same.”
Asked Police, Navy for Help
Leonard of Lowery’s office said the school had asked the San Diego police and the Navy for help in securing the campus, but the matter was “still up in the air.
“And another concern is whether you make the situation worse by making it an armed camp,” Leonard said of the campus.
However Capt. Charles D. Crow of the San Diego Police Department’s Northern Division said his officers are not providing heightened security at the school.
“I did talk to them last Friday, and we did have an officer go by for cover when school was closing,” he said of protection provided the school on the day of the van bombing.
“But another request hasn’t come to my attention. And they do have some private security that’s guiding their parking lots and so forth.”
Meanwhile, the FBI pressed ahead Thursday with its investigation of the bombing and was “following some significant things,” said Ron Orrantia, an FBI spokesman in San Diego. He declined to elaborate.
Investigators for five law enforcement agencies have been analyzing the wreckage of the Rogers van and looking for other leads to help them determine whether the bombing was the work of a political terrorist or whether there was some other motive. The agencies involved are the FBI, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the NIS, the San Diego Police Department and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
Officials for the San Diego Fire Department announced Thursday that they will hold a special meeting today to discuss a sharp increase in bombs being found in the San Diego area.
New figures showed that there has been a 63% increase over last year in Emergency Ordnance Disposal teams’ responses to the discovery of bombs this year.
There was also a 300% increase in explosive devices that were found, and a 700% increase in the number of explosive devices that were actually detonated.
In Washington, the issue of last Friday’s bombing attempt was addressed in a White House interview with President Bush Wednesday. The President, speaking to selected reporters, called the incident “alarming” but said “the evidence is not conclusive” that the attack was the work of foreign terrorists.
The President also pledged that, if the investigation reveals that the van was blown up in retaliation for the Persian Gulf incident, everything should be done “to bring the perpetrators to justice and to make very clear . . . that terrorist acts should not be--cannot be--condoned.”
Times staff writer Jane Fritsch contributed to this report.