The Exile of Sharon Rogers

After escaping a terrorist bomb, she is barred from her school

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Americans long viewed terrorist violence as something that happened to other people, over there. Then, last December, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded in the sky over Scotland, killing 259 people, including many U.S. citizens. Two months later, bookstores across the country received bomb threats for selling Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. And last month Sharon Rogers, a 50-year-old schoolteacher, narrowly escaped being blown up on a San Diego street as she drove to work.

Sharon Rogers happens to be married to U.S. Navy Captain Will Rogers III, commander of the U.S.S. Vincennes, the guided-missile cruiser that mistakenly shot down an Iranian passenger jet last July, killing all 290 passengers and crew members. Eight months later, his wife was driving to her job as a fourth- grade teacher at the elite La Jolla Country Day School. As she paused for a red light, Rogers heard a bang in her Toyota van; she leaped out, unharmed, just before the vehicle burst into flames. Investigators believe a terrorist pipe bomb was placed in the van in retaliation for the downing of the Iranian airliner.

Since then Rogers has become an exile of sorts in her community. While she is free to come and go as she pleases from her temporary home at a San Diego naval base, she is under the constant eye of four bodyguards from the Naval Investigative Service. She is also reportedly wired for sound so that the security officers can listen in on all her conversations.

Worst of all, Rogers was made to feel like an outcast at the school where she taught for twelve years. On March 13 headmaster Timothy Burns told Rogers that she could not return immediately and that he did not know what "we are going to do about this." The next day the school received a bomb threat, which turned out to be a hoax. Then, when Rogers did not receive her contract renewal on the same day as other faculty members, she fired off an angry letter to the parents of her students, saying she did not pose a risk to the children's safety. She was later barred from the campus but continues to collect her paychecks and to assist a substitute teacher with lesson plans. Many San Diegans, angered by the way Rogers was treated, accused the school of gross ingratitude and cowardice. Others argued that Rogers should stay away for the safety of the students. Said Jean Andrews, a political consultant and the mother of one of Rogers' former pupils: "I don't think children's bodies are the appropriate weapons to be used on a frontline offensive against terrorist attacks."

Responding to the criticism, headmaster Burns said last week that the school's handling of Rogers "may have been . . . in retrospective, not the best." Rogers was offered a new contract for the next school year, but she has yet to accept the deal, partly because it makes her return to the campus contingent on a "substantial" determination by the Naval Investigative Service, the FBI and the San Diego police that she does not pose a security threat. "Does Sharon feel betrayed? I think she does," says a friend. "Twelve years of her life she's given to that school."

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