D.C. School Board member Frank Shaffer-Corona said yesterday he will not reimburse the school system for telephone calls he has been making to the U.S. Embassy in Tehran to try to win the release of Hispanic hostages being held there.
"I feel that I am serving the people of the District of Columbia" by making the calls, Shaffer-Corona said.
His calls have angered some of his colleagues, however, and the school board yesterday moved to stem them. By an 8-to-0 vote, the board voted to prohibit any members from making further calls to Iran.
The approved measure also allows the board president to set up a task force to review all international calls made by board members in the last year and to recommend for which, if any, the Board should be reimbursed. Three members, including Shaffer-Corona, were absent for the vote.
Shaffer-Corona said he had made about 16 calls to the U.S. Embassy in Iran since the beginning of January and that the calls lasted from two minutes to 40 minutes. According to the phone company, the price of those calls, if put through by an operator, would range from $9 to about $100.
The school board has not received any bills for Shaffer-Corona's calls yet, according to the board's chief finance office.Board members learned of the calls, one board member said, "because Frank was always boasting about them."
Shaffer-Corona reasoned that the calls were justified school expenses because "our kids will be the first to go" if the country goes to war.
"If some fool pushes a button somewhere, this city will become the biggest manhole in the world . . . If our kids are dead and our parents are gone, nobody is going to be doing a whole lot of learning."
The State Department last week ordered Shaffer-Corona to stop making the calls, though department officials initially had authorized them.
Merton Bland, a State Department spokesman, said Shaffer-Corona convinced officials there that he was a "militant activist in the Hispanic community" in Washington and that the Iranian students holding the hostages would "listen to me" if he asked that the Hispanics be released. Shaffer-Corona also had said that he would seek release of a North American Indian being held at the embassy since both Hispanics and Indians had been "under the yoke of U.S. imperial aggression."
"I think we sort of let things get out of hand," Bland said yesterday of the calls.
Shaffer-Corona talked with the families of two Hispanic hostages when they were in town for a State Department briefing last week.
Mary Lopez, of Globe, Ariz., the mother of hostage James Michael Lopez, said Shaffer-Corona introduced himself and told her he was interested in getting back the Hispanic hostages. "We told him (and others who have approached the family) the same thing, we are waiting to see what the outcome is. I wouldn't want to go and mess up something if the government is working on it."
Shaffer-Corona said he intends to continue making calls and that he has written a letter to President Carter objecting to the State Department's ban on his telephoning. But Bland said the phone company has agreed not to place any calls through to the embassy in Tehran unless they first have been authorized by the State Department.
Before the vote on the board resolution banning further calls, Shaffer-Corona called the measure an effort to turn the board into "not just a tribunal, but a kangaroo court . . . I am being discriminated against."