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Lowery Lambastes School Over Treatment of Rogers

Times Staff Writers

Describing Sharon Rogers as “very, very distressed,” a San Diego congressman Tuesday blasted La Jolla Country Day School administrators for first firing her as a teacher, and now trying to negotiate a new contract and return her to the campus by next year.

Rep. Bill Lowery (R-San Diego) also asked the head of the Naval Investigative Service to examine the school grounds and determine what would have to be done to properly secure the school should the popular fourth-grade instructor be allowed to resume teaching there.

And he is seeking a “counter-terrorism briefing” at the school in which experts would meet with faculty, administrators and parents to discuss how best to deal with unanswered questions and fears since the March 10 bombing of Rogers’ van.

“They’re a sham,” Lowery said in a statement released through his San Diego office, scoring school officials for what he describes as flip-flopping in their treatment of Rogers in the last two weeks.

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“They’re ineffective. And they are further damaging the school and polarizing the community.

“This should be a time for supporting Sharon Rogers, for standing unified against terrorism and for healing the wounds that have been inflicted upon this community and the Rogers family,” the statement said.

But Richard Roth, a public relations specialist from Pasadena who was hired by the school to act as its official spokesman in the continuing controversy over Rogers’ tenure at La Jolla Country Day, said Tuesday that the school genuinely is trying to act responsibly.

“We’re hoping that the community will pull together in seeing that we are trying to honor two values here,” he said. “The value of physical safety for the children and the other value of having Sharon Rogers do what she does so well: Teach her fourth-grade children.”

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Federal officials investigating the blast believe a pipe bomb was placed under the vehicle in retaliation for the order by her husband, Navy Capt. Will Rogers III, to shoot down an Iranian airplane last summer in the Persian Gulf. The missile from the ship, the Vincennes, destroyed an Iran Air commercial liner, killing all 290 persons aboard.

On Tuesday, crew members of his ship passed out flyers in the La Jolla area seeking information leading to the arrest of the persons who bombed the van.

Mrs. Rogers could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But officials in Lowery’s office said she has told them she was perturbed by the school’s new position of suddenly wanting her to come back.

“She found it very, very distressing,” said Karl B. Higgins, district director of the Republican congressman’s office in San Diego. “And by that I mean the issuance of public relations double-speak and attempting to pussyfoot around the situation involving her employment and potential return.

“There is an expression, on her part, of frustration. There is an extreme displeasure in the way this has been handled.

‘She Wants to Teach, Plain and Simple’

“She wants to teach, plain and simple. But why would she want to go back to La Jolla Country Day after they have fired her and deceived the public about their relationship? What kind of atmosphere does that produce?”

Navy and school officials said Mrs. Rogers and school Headmaster Timothy M. Burns were hoping to meet soon to discuss a new contract offer for the 1989-90 school year.

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While several sources, including Lowery and former La Jolla Country Day board member Ron Gravette, maintain that Rogers was forced out, Roth announced Monday that the school wanted to present her with new options for her returning in some capacity to the campus for the next school year.

He said that, if “100% security” can be assured, she will be allowed back on campus as a teacher. If not, he said, she can work off-campus by preparing lessons and handling duties for the school alumni association.

“There’ll be three or four conversations before we iron out what her role is going to be,” Roth said. “You have to realize we are in an area that is unprecedented. A lot of options have to be examined.”

The school spokesman also said that Lowery’s request for an examination of the school and its security needs, along with a counter-terrorism briefing, “would be welcomed with open arms.”

“We have all along been interested in getting as much professional information and professional expertise on how best to secure the campus,” he said. “We have all along been hoping we can get people professionally trained in this field to get information and recommendations on how best to proceed with security measures.”

‘Knee-Jerk Response’

But Lowery insisted that the school has acted inappropriately in the matter: “Sharon Rogers was fired by La Jolla Country Day in an obvious over-reaction and knee-jerk response to the bombing incident.

“The most constructive action that La Jolla County Day could engage in today would be to admit their mistake, fire the public relations flack from Pasadena and contribute the funds that are going towards professional damage control into a constructive use, such as the reward fund.”

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Instead, he said, “they have shot themselves in the foot again by releasing half-truths (about her job status) and misstatements and by placing unreasonable demands on Sharon Rogers.”

Gravette, who resigned from the exclusive school’s governing board in the midst of the controversy, said in a radio interview Tuesday that Rogers was never really allowed a chance to save her job at the school.

“It was a fait accompli, " he told station XTRA AM. “She was in the board room, and she was not going to be returning to the school.”

He said that school administrators also were worried that, if she did not leave the campus, as many as 100 students might be removed by their parents.

In another development Tuesday, a group of eight sailors from Capt. Rogers’ ship, the Vincennes, spent the day at three area shopping malls passing out flyers from San Diego Crime Stoppers announcing a $37,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the bombing.

Anyone with information is asked to call the San Diego Crime Stoppers at 235-TIPS.


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