WASHINGTON — A Rose Garden ceremony to honor outstanding schools ended today with a shouting match between educators and reporters trying to question President Reagan about Judge Robert H. Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court.
Principals angrily rebuked several journalists who shouted questions to the President as he walked back to the Oval Office. Several journalists gave the educators a tongue-lashing in return and told them to brush up on the First Amendment.
The tempest came at the close of a 10-minute ceremony for leaders of the 271 junior high and high schools cited in an annual recognition program sponsored by the Department of Education.
The reporters had maintained silence when Reagan emerged from the nearby Oval Office and throughout the 10-minute ceremony.
But after a jovial Reagan said, "Class dismissed!" and began walking back to the Oval Office, Bill Plante of CBS-TV asked, "Mr. President, looks like the Bork nomination will fail in the committee."
Reagan responded loudly and firmly, "Over my dead body!" The crowd laughed and applauded.
As Plante and Sam Donaldson of ABC-TV shouted follow-up questions, an educator near the roped-off press area at the back of the Rose Garden turned on the reporters and said, "You're taking away from the joy of the whole occasion for us."
Donaldson shot back, "He's a grown man and he can take care of himself. . . . We're doing our job here as reporters, asking the President questions."
"This is our day," several educators said.
"Why should this ruin the occasion for you? You've had your part of the occasion," Plante said.
"Freedom of the press," another reporter said. "Now you can go home and watch it on TV."
"You don't have the right to ruin it for us," the first educator said.
"That's ridiculous," Plante said.
"No, you're the one that's ridiculous. Would you like to take a poll here?" one of the educators said.
"The First Amendment applies here as well as anywhere else," a reporter said.
A woman asked: "Why don't you ask him about education? Why don't you ask him about the positive side?"
"We have a story here, madam," Donaldson replied.
"Mr. Donaldson, I think all of us here are very disappointed in you," the woman said.
"And we're disappointed in you, madam," Donaldson said. "You may think you have a right to dictate in the Rose Garden when we work here and have worked here for years to try to get information from the President, but we don't concede it. We did not disturb your ceremony. . . . The President had left or was leaving."