“I talked to Roger the night before he was missing and he was definitely not suicidal.” –Becky Ellison Livingston
Six months after Roger Ellison disappeared, Cedaredge High School social studies teacher John Pash allegedly went to the Ellison home and told Roger’s mother that Roger was suicidal and that he had been counseling him at his private residence next door to the school.
Evelyn Ellison, who had just lost her beloved husband, Ernest, was frantic. She called the Delta County Sheriff’s Office to pass on the information. It wasn’t long thereafter that questions began to surface.
For starters, the timing of the suicide report was suspicious.
“Why didn’t Pash say at the time Roger was missing that Roger was suicidal and Pash was counseling him,” asked Becky Ellison Livingston, Roger’s older sister. “Why did he wait six months?”
Not only that, why did Pash withhold crucial information about Roger’s supposed suicidal state from fellow teachers, high school administrators and others who might have helped the troubled teen?
If Roger was suicidal, he didn’t fit many of the common warning signs associated with suicidal students, including giving away favorite possessions, previous suicide attempts, decline in school performance or other activities, deteriorating physical appearance or alcohol and drug abuse.
School policies dealing with suicidal students vary between schools and states. Courts generally recognize that school administrators, educators, and board members have an obligation to keep kids safe when they’re at school. Under the Family Educational and Privacy Rights Act, educators must protect the privacy of student records such as grades and disciplinary actions. However, there is one exception to maintaining confidentiality: If a student is believed to be experiencing a suicidal crisis or has expressed suicidal thoughts, then confidentiality must be breached in order to protect the student.
When does a teacher have a legal responsibility to report a suicidal student? Post your comments to my blog or click on the Contact page to send me an email.
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