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Mourning for teacher found dead in forest

Rigoberto RuelasA teacher whose body was found underneath a bridge in the Angeles National Forest appears to have committed suicide, authorities said Monday as students and teachers at his school mourned his death.

The body of Rigoberto Ruelas was found Sunday morning around the Big Tujunga Canyon area in the Angeles National Forest, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Members of a search-and-rescue team that were training nearby came across Ruelas' vehicle, officials said. They searched a ravine about 100 feet below a nearby bridge and found Ruelas' body.

"Based upon the entirety of the investigation, the evidence indicates he took his own life in this tragedy," Los Angeles County Sheriff's Capt. Mike Parker said.

Ruelas' death stunned students and teachers at Miramonte Elementary School in South L.A., where he was described as a popular and energetic teacher. Parents, students, fellow teachers and others placed flowers and cards in front of the school. Crisis counselors were on campus to help students or teachers who sought help.

"You were an example for each one of your students and a friend for all," a hand-painted banner said in Spanish. "R.I.P. Mr. Ruelas."

The school principal, and officials of the Los Angeles Unified School District and the teachers union officials held a meeting with teachers and staff early Monday, and about 100 parents turned out for an emotional meeting with school officials after that.

"We are doing our best to come together as a school, as a family, to support our children, who are deeply affected by this, and also the teachers," said Principal Martin Sandoval.

"We would like to express our personal condolences to the family of Mr. Rigaberto Ruelas," LAUSD Supt. Ramon Cortines said in a statement. "Mr. Ruelas was a passionate and caring teacher, who put his students first. He made a difference in the lives of so many in his classroom, and by staying after the bell rang to tutor students. He encouraged his students to do better and aim higher, that they too could go to college. In addition, during his 14 years of teaching, Mr. Ruelas had nearly perfect attendance. We need more teachers like him."

Amid the mourning, people were trying to understand what caused Ruelas to take his own life.

KABC-TV Channel 7 quoted family members as saying that Ruelas was distraught about scoring low in a teacher-rating database recently made public by The Times. He had been missing since Sept. 22. South Gate Police Officer Tony Mendez told KCAL-TV Channel 9 that Ruelas was unhappy at his database ranking.

But South Gate Police Lt. Francis Arocha said he could not confirm any details about the death and referred all questions about the initial statements to a department captain, who could not be reached. Parker said that the Sheriff's Department had been told by South Gate police that Ruelas was upset over the Times' database, but he added that he was unsure where that information came from.

In the database, Ruelas is listed as "less effective than average overall." He rated "less effective" in math and "average" in English.

The president of United Teachers Los Angeles, which has come out strongly against the public release of teacher names and "value-added" ratings, released a statement calling on The Times to take down the database, saying the union "predicted there would be problems."

The Times on Sunday evening released a statement noting authorities were still investigating the case, adding: "We extend our sympathy to his family."

-- Robert Faturechi, Alexandra Zavis and Tony Barboza

Photo: Rigoberto Ruelas. Credit: South Gate Police Department


Comments () | Archives (92)

Mr. Ruelas was a wonderful teacher. I am still in shock over what happened. In my High School years, I went back to visit Mr.Ruelas and to that very day he remembered me. He was very friendly and passionate about his work. I remember hanging out with him during lunch and after school hours, he was one of the only teachers who took the extra time and effort to motivate his students. God bless him and his family.

5th grade teacher...
can't help but wonder why???

If a poor teacher commits suicide because he's exposed and the Union defends his mediocre performance, how can the schools ever improve?

Was that picture how he was found?


Sad. He could only be as good as his students and to hold him to other students in other schools with better socio-economic status is just wrong. Parents should be included in this classification. It's their job to fortify and enrich what is learned in school. RIP Young Man.

"You were an example for each one of your students and a friend for all," a hand-painted banner said in Spanish. "R.I.P. Mr. Ruelas."

Apparently his English teaching skills weren't as good as the report suggested. Seems parents, peers, and students loved him but that doesn't mean he was a good teacher.

Go to any school where the kids and parents say a teacher is hard and that is usually the teacher with the best students. They aren't there to make it easy or to be someone's buddy, they are there to teach and prepare these kids for the next grade and eventually the world.

How sad. Didn't he realize, that most children in his class have to be as close to proficient in the english language to be able to at least score on this standardized test; this goes for all the sections tested. In regards, to being close as possible toward proficient in the language of english, this should not hinder children from being taught advanced math in a class regardless of the level of english proficiency.

Schools will improve when people stop being ignorant and recognize that CST scores are not adequate measures of student and/or teacher performance.

Gee, what happened to that little gimmick where you could type in a teacher's name and any and all professional evaluations would suddenly be available?

Unless there is a suicide note, people have no right to link Mr. Ruelas reasons to anything, much less something as superficial as a teacher score. Using something like this for political gains is despicable.

I can't believe the callous remarks that others are putting here. To be a teacher is not only to be a score-raising machine but also to be human, to interact with students and support them in their lives, not just their test scores! Not everything in a kid's life is about how well they did in math or science. The strain on the educational system that pressures kids to be judged only on the basis of test scores rather than rewarding them as creative and full human beings outside of a multiple choice bubble sheet score is now taking its toll on the people who devote their lives in the service of other people's children.

I hate this continual blaming of teachers, the very frontline forces who are dealing with children on one - rather than a look at the school system itself and school administration. Why is it that people are so willing to single out and release teacher's names for what is deemed "low performance" for their kid's scores, but we don't even do this for police officers who shoot and kill people, or school police who molest children in school?

It is difficult for me to believe that a teacher's ratings would by themselves prompt him to take his own life. That can't be the whole story. How unfortunate that a man who was probably complex and multi-faceted should be portrayed as so one-dimensional and easily crushed.

C'mon do you really buy this stuff? There is more to the story then being exposed. I knew this teacher , I myself attended that elementary school as a child in the late 70's . This teacher was also a member of the community and had strong ties to it.

I understand him being upset over his exposure but PLEASE to commit suicide , I don't think so. I have family members who attend that school and believe me , he probably had other issues he was dealing with

My fear of all of this teacher evaluation based on student performance will drive teachers at some schools to dispair and most all teachers will want to teach at good schools with good students whose families have great educational backgrounds. I got a severe eveluation in my last year of teaching at a high school toward the east of L.A. The reason was that I had a class at 8 A.M. of 35 students, most of whom could have cared less about school and more about drugs and drinking. The average absence rate was 33% per day and the students absent were different every day.
Parents didn't respond to phone calls and said, "That's you problem. Don't bother me," when they did respond. Some kids were living at places other than their homes. As a result many got failing grades. I was faulted for this because of those kids situations. My other classes were 2 honors and 2 average classes. They did fine. But I was to blame for the one class of kids and parents who could care less. Go figure.

very sad and sympathize for him and his family. A job shouldn't be life or death. He must have had other issues.

I think it's ridiculous to place blame for this man's mental stability and suicide on the Time's database ranking. Any calls by individuals and organizations to have the database removed due to his death are unwarranted and impossible to substantiate.



It is sad that Mr. Ruelas did not seek help from his Union or the LAUSD if he was distraught over his grade. Perhaps he had other issues which led to his despair. Tragic, but now the LAUSD needs to do something to help its staff cope, and also help resolve the issue with low testing scores. As someone whom has several friends who are teachers, I often hear about the complaints of slacker teachers that are there only for the "paycheck". These are teachers we don't need teaching the children who will be our future. Nor shall we come to the conclusion that all teachers are bad because of less effective scores, as there maybe more mitigating circumstances, such as over-crowded classes, or administration's compliance to appease parents by allowing poor grading students to move up a grade instead of being held back (allowing them to develop mentally).

It is very sad that this man took his own life. However it's not just because he scored poorly on a teacher rating. People who commit suicide have severe underlying problems - things they have been battling for years, if not decades. Unfortunately we can never know all of the demons this man dealt with.

I hope the follow-up of this article, and your general coverage of teacher evaluations, will focus on how important it is for kids to have a teacher who looks like them, regardless of whether he has an accent, whether he is "below average."
Have we ever determined what "average" actually is?? Except for Lake Woebegone where all the kids are "above average..." Does each school trot out an average teacher for everyone to emulate?
Was he below average in caring? in mentoring his students?
How many bilingual teachers are classified in the "below average" category? Are we still thinking that people with two languages are "below" those who have only one?
From the president on down, leaders have been scapegoating teachers, hoping to distract from their own shortcomings. Maybe Obama's kids are average, and that is why they have to go to private schools to start on early networking.
Too bad Mr Ruelas was sensitive, hardworking, demanding of himself and his students, and chose helping children instead of some other profession that would have kept him out of the political line of fire of those who are clearly his inferiors.

The dude obviously had other issues going on.

Shame on The president of United Teachers Los Angeles for trying to use this tragedy to his advantage!!!

i knew this teacher he was a good man

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