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First Amendment controversies at schools aren’t new, but this one involves a teacher rather than students.
A high-school teacher in Portland, Ore., says he’s about to be fired because of his opposition to Planned Parenthood and abortion.
Bill Diss has taught at Benson High School for 11 years but was escorted from his classroom by police Tuesday and ordered not to return after being given a few minutes to collect his belongings.
The teacher said he was placed on administrative leave, pending a recommendation by the superintendent that he be fired. Diss has hired an attorney and plans to file a grievance with his union.
Diss said he was recently awarded certification as the only teacher in Oregon qualified to teach college-level computer science to high school students for dual credit.
He is a devout Catholic who opposes Planned Parenthood because of the abortions they provide and because he believes the organization encourages sex among teenagers.
He also opposes an optional teenage pregnancy prevention initiative offered at his school, the Teen Outreach Program, because of its partnership with Planned Parenthood. The district program is funded by a grant from the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
“It’s much more important for them to have Planned Parenthood in the schools than to have a really dedicated teacher who really teaches math well and goes the extra mile and does a whole bunch with the kids,” said Diss.
Planned Parenthood tried to get Diss’ teaching license revoked in 2009, according to Lifenews.com.
“I certainly fight Planned Parenthood, which I certainly have a right to do,” he told reporters after his removal from the school. “And that was all on the outside, until [last] year when they brought Planned Parenthood [into the school].”
He said he has been suspended twice this year. Diss was reprimanded in September for trying to stop a presentation about the pregnancy program in his classroom, according to suspension letters he provided to The Oregonian.
Diss says he was told to expect officials from the Teen Outreach Program to come to his classroom, but when they instead showed him credentials from Planned Parenthood he asked them leave. Minutes later, they returned with the principal, who remove Diss from the classroom.
He was forced to attend the Planned Parenthood presentation the next day.
“They were extremely aggressive in obtaining the children’s signatures by promising them all sorts of gifts and cash,” Diss said.
Planned Parenthood went on to file a formal complaint against Diss with the school.
Diss said, ever since then, the school has been questioning his teaching skills and methods, and he has been required to attend numerous hearings.
In one of the letters Diss provided to the Oregonian, officials claimed the teacher’s religious beliefs caused him to try to stop students from attending the pregnancy program. Officials cite “unprofessional, intimidating and/or harassing behavior,” according to one of the letters.
A letter from Principal Carol Campbell and human resources regional director Frank Scotto told Diss it was inappropriate to discuss chastity, purity, premarital sex, abortion and religion in his math, computer science and study hall classes, even though it was apparently appropriate to have a Planned Parenthood presentation on teenage sex and pregnancy in the same classroom.
The letter accused Diss of telling students to “shut (their) mouths.” “(Students) also quoted you as saying, ‘they would end up on 82nd (Avenue) and that they kill over a million babies every three years,’ it continued. The letter also included a statement from a teacher who says Diss frequently yelled at, and confronted, students.
Diss said the reference to 82nd Avenue (known for prostitution) was a misunderstanding. He acknowledged discussing Planned Parenthood and religious beliefs in class, and said that can be appropriate, because he lets students express their own views.
One student told a local television station that students sometimes mock Diss for his pro-life views.
“He doesn’t do it a lot, but students do make fun of him for … being against [abortion] and everything,” explained Ty’sha Harrell, a junior. “When he does talk about it, he does have … really good views and everything, but sometimes he goes too deep into it. He brings religion into it.”