Middle School Teacher In Trouble Over Presidential Photo?

By Ken Rosato--Monmouth Junction-WABC, 10/03/04

You might say it is a symbol of the Great American Divide, a teacher putting up a picture of President Bush in the classroom. Some say it is partisanship while others say it is patriotism.

Rita Bianco, Parent: "Children should know their president and their first lady!"

Parents expressing outrage after a teacher is kicked out of her public school for hanging a picture of President Bush next to pictures of other presidents in her classroom.

Shiba Pillai-Diaz, Teacher: "It happened on a small bulletin board near the American flag and also with a poster of the Declaration of Independence."

This is Crossroads South Middle School in Monmouth Junction, New Jersey. On Thursday, there was a back-to-school night for parents of students. Veteran English teacher Shiba Pillai-Diaz says she was shocked when three parents confronted her. The three, insisting the teacher either add John Kerry's photo to the montage of presidents or remove the Bush photo. When Pillai-Diaz refused, she says the school's vice-principal threatened her job which is an act that has parents here fuming.

Paula Sjolund, Parent: "She didn't do anything wrong, and I think that it should have stayed up there."

Pillai-Diaz ultimately removed the entire bulletin board and says School Principal Jim Warfel told her she disrupted the school with her "inflammatory politics". She says he then ordered her out of the building. While she says she is a Bush supporter in her personal life, Pillai-Diaz says she keeps politics out of the classroom.

Shiba Pillai-Diaz, Teacher: "There was no political intent, nor was there any political content in that photograph nor on the bulletin board."

School officials would not talk on camera but insist nobody here has been fired. To that, Ms. Pillai-Diaz asks what does it mean then when your boss asks you to hand over the keys and kicks you out of the building? She also says she is not sure if she'll be returning to school tomorrow.