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School Softens Security Clause in Rogers Contract

Times Staff Writer

Sharon Rogers, wife of Navy Capt. Will Rogers III, on Thursday met with La Jolla Country Day School headmaster Tim Burns and was offered a contract to return to her fourth-grade classroom in the fall if federal agencies can guarantee that her presence on campus poses no “substantial” safety threat to students.

School spokesman Richard Roth said the contract offer represents a softer position by Country Day administrators, who announced this week that they would bring the popular teacher back into the classroom only if the safety of her students could be 100% guaranteed.

“Looking at it closely, it seems reasonable that nothing could be 100% certain,” Roth said about the change. “It’s much more reasonable to expect that we want to eliminate substantial threat, and you can do that. A 100% certainty you don’t have about anything in life.”

Will Rely on Experts

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Roth said the school will rely on the expertise of the FBI and Naval Investigative Service to determine when it is safe for Rogers to return to the classroom.

The face-to-face meeting between Burns and Rogers on Thursday was their first since the wife of Vincennes skipper Will Rogers III was told not to return to the exclusive private school after a pipe bomb exploded under her Toyota van.

The meeting with Burns comes one day after Rogers met with all her former students at a pizza and ice cream party at a private La Jolla residence, said one of the parents who attended the party. The parent said the teacher showed up with several security guards to eat and play games and see her pupils for the first time since the bombing.

“The point is, the kids related well with her,” said the parent, who asked not to be identified. “We want Mrs. Rogers back.”

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The parent stressed that the Navy security guards did not bother the children and kept a low profile.

‘Safer With Here’

“When we saw the security that she had and how unobtrusive they are, we are safer with her than without her,” said the parent.

The parent also said that 16 pupils’ parents signed a petition asking for Rogers’ return to the classroom as soon as possible. There are about 21 students in the class.

The FBI is investigating the case because the bomb might have been planted by terrorists as revenge for the guided missile cruiser’s mistaken downing last year of an Iranian jetliner filled with 290 civilian passengers.

Under pressure from worried parents, some of whom threatened to withdraw their children from the private school, Country Day administrators told Rogers not to return and announced that she would not be coming back to campus, even for the next school year. In a letter to the parents of her fourth-grade class, Rogers said she had been “terminated” by Burns.

The action brought a storm of protest, including comments last week from a White House spokesman. Beleaguered school officials hired Roth to handle public relations and complained they had been misunderstood, that they were paying Mrs. Rogers through August and had always intended to issue her a contract for next year.

Meeting Called ‘Cordial’

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That contract was handed to Rogers on Thursday by Burns, said Roth. “The meeting was cordial and they discussed the recent issues that have polarized the school and the community,” said Roth, who declined to disclose the location of the meeting.

The contract, he said, would cover Aug. 29 through June 30, 1990.

“It’s similar to all other contracts except in one area, which is the criteria . . . that the NIS and the FBI provide the school with confirmation that her presence on campus would pose no substantial threat to the students and faculty,” said Roth.

Asked if Rogers could return immediately if the federal agencies could give those assurances now, Roth said: “I don’t think it’s precluded, but I don’t think it was addressed in the meeting.”

Roth said Rogers had until April 14 to sign the contract. He said the teacher, who was reportedly upset about the way Burns handled her employment, gave no indication Thursday whether she would accept the offer.

“We’re hopeful that Sharon will be back on campus, teaching her fourth-grade students next year,” said Roth.

Rogers was unavailable for comment.


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