Officials from Portland Public Schools walked into Bill Diss’ classroom last week and told the veteran math and computer science teacher he’d been placed on administrative leave while district Superintendent Carole Smith ponders a recommendation that he be fired.
Diss, a pro-life leader and advocate for teen sexual abstinence, was escorted peacefully off the Benson High School campus by a police officer.
Diss and his attorney say the possible dismissal is mostly a result of his off-hours campaign against Planned Parenthood, which he blames for worsening promiscuity among his students. A member of Holy Rosary Parish and pro-life director for the Knights of Columbus in Oregon, Diss says his public work is a way of living out his Catholic faith.
“I am a practicing Catholic and I am actively practicing my faith in the community,” says the 57-year-old father of grown children. “I look at these students as my own kids. I’ve never met a kid whose promiscuity or abortion was a positive thing. We are not built to be promiscuous. It breaks our hearts.”
Diss’ employee evaluations from Benson show steady improvement and regard from when he started in 2002 through ‘07. It was only in 2008, after he began speaking publicly about Planned Parenthood, that the official assessments turned negative. After a lot of work, he was able to get the 2008-’09 evaluation removed from his file because of innaccuracies.
His 2012/‘13 evaluation has been the most critical, claiming he has little knowledge of the age group and the impact of race and culture. Diss counters, saying that the top two students in his challenging computer science class this year were Hispanic and Black young women.
A letter from another teacher makes claims that Diss yells at students and spends too much class time on his computer and on the phone. He was suspended for three days in early March. He and his lawyer are taking issue with the letter and the suspension.
Diss’ lawyer sees all the teaching critique as cover for another agenda.
Portland Public Schools is attempting to remove him because he is a vocal critic of Planned Parenthood and a supporter of unborn babies and sexual purity for adolescents, says James Leuenberger, a Lake Oswego attorney.
"PPS has singled Bill out for punishment and expulsion because he stands as a beacon of Christian virtue," Leuenberger says.
Matt Shelby, public schools district spokesman, said the district would not dismiss someone for living out religious convictions on personal time. “We fully expect all of our employees to have their own religious and political views and how they choose to express those opinions has no bearing on their employment at PPS.”
Benson officials began to criticize Diss beginning in mid 2007, after he began leading a campaign to stop work on a new Planned Parenthood building on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Diss, who appeared in local media, said the building gave young people the message that sexual activity and abortion are acceptable. He was reprimanded for making calls during his lunch hour and attending a prayer vigil on Presidents Day. At a hearing, officials asked him what he said during the prayers.
“Next, you’ll want to know what I tell my priest in confession,” Diss told the panel.
This fall, when Benson allowed Planned Parenthood to begin a life skills club at school, even offering cash as an incentive, Diss objected.
He dismissed the Planned Parenthood workers, saying the organization poses a threat to students’ well-being. School officials forced him to allow the workers to return, required him to listen to the presentations, and sent in frequent observers while he taught. Diss urged students not to attend the club meetings and was disciplined for that. He has been called in for a dozen hearings.
Diss believes officials are applying pressure to make him quit. “I think the world knows that the school district is supportive of Planned Parenthood,” he says.
Jeandre Carbone, vice principal at Benson, felt Diss was insubordinare toward her at an October football game. In response, nine cheerleaders said their teacher was only showing school spirit and signed a petition in support.
Dozens of letter writers came forward to commend Diss over the past year. Some link his faith with his disciplinary woes. “I know that many of your staff disagree with Mr. Diss on his religious views but I think that is a very poor reason to persecute someone who has done as much good as he has for the children of Portland and for the students at Benson Tech,” wrote Matthew Wade, a parent of two Benson students.