Don't exploit tragedy to make your policy point

When I first heard the news about a Los Angeles elementary teacher killing himself, I cringed. First and foremost I was saddened. Suicide is a serious topic that I hesitate to even bring up for fear of speaking out of context and because blog readers have no way of knowing how deeply I care about mental health issues broadly.

I understand the anger expressed by Rigoberto Ruelas' families, friends, and colleagues at the LA Times for publishing results showing that he was ineffective, as this was a source of stress in his life when he made the decision to end it. I even understand their blaming the Times. They are traumatized and looking for answers. Frankly, any form of lashing out, blaming, expressing anger, etc. is completely appropriate and normal. For them, that is.

I think it's utterly inappropriate for Ed Week blogger Walt Gardner (or any other reporters, for that matter) to draw a direct line from the Times' analysis to this suicide, calling the ?humiliation? that Ruelas faced (?reminiscent of the use of pillories in colonial America?) a cause of his suicide. He writes:

The exact motive for Ruelas's suicide is not clear. There may have been factors involved other than the publication of his effectiveness. But what is undeniable is that the Times's decision was a contributing factor.

He names other possible factors but doesn't bother investigating them. I won't argue that the Times' decision to name names was insensitive, possibly even an expression of ?atrocious judgment? as Gardner says.? Terry said as much in the Plain Dealer a month ago: ?the manner in which the Times published the data was unfair to individual teachers.?

But nobody knows whether, or the degree to which, the value-added ratings affected Ruelas' mental state in such a way that he thought suicide was the only answer. Gardner is an outsider ? not a family member or friend ? and this just seems like trying to use a tragedy to make a broader point about the value-added analysis. Now is really not the time.

- Jamie Davies O'Leary

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