News

Palo Alto officials brace for story in The Atlantic magazine

Piece on youth suicides to publish online Tuesday, Nov. 17

Palo Alto school and city officials, with the help of local mental health professionals, are bracing for the release of a cover story in The Atlantic on the recent teen suicide cluster.

The national magazine is set to publish a story by journalist Hanna Rosin titled "The Silicon Valley Suicides" online on Tuesday and in print in its December issue. Palo Alto Unified School District administrators, city leadership and health professionals from both Stanford University and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation have been meeting to draft a response to the article (of which they had read an advance copy) as well as a list of FAQs, or frequently asked questions, around suicide, teen mental health and the community's efforts to address both over the past several years.

"While we grieve the loss of our youth, we are gratified by the enormous dedication and collaboration of local community leaders, youth, and families to address the myriad complex challenges the suicides have brought to light," the response reads. "We are facing these issues candidly, publicly, and with heartfelt compassion."

Many officials who are engaged in this collaboration — including Superintendent Max McGee, the principals of both Gunn and Palo Alto high schools, City Manager James Keene, City of Palo Alto Chief Communications Officer Claudia Keith, Stanford child and adolescent psychiatrists Shashank Joshi and Steven Adelsheim, Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) pediatric and internal medicine doctor Meg Durbin, PAMF health educator Becky Beacom and parent advocates like Kathleen Blanchard — were included on emails planning several meetings around how to respond to The Atlantic article. They plan to continue to meet early this week to prepare for the publication of the story, including with a "mini media training" led by Keith.

The response the group wrote details the gamut of efforts within both the schools and the community to prevent suicides and support teen mental health and well-being, from the creation of youth suicide-prevention collaborative Project Safety Net and the HEARD Alliance, a group of local health professionals who treat children and adolescents to a shift to a new block schedule at Gunn this year and the city's work on means restrictions, a form of suicide prevention, along the 4-mile stretch of Caltrain tracks in Palo Alto. Security guards are also now manning several Palo Alto crossings 24 hours a day, seven days a week — an increase in coverage that the city put in place in October to last through the end of the year.

"Finally (and really firstly)," the response reads, are efforts that have been initiated and led by students. At Gunn, these include the ROCK (Reach Out, Care, Know) peer-support program, a new series in the student newspaper called "Change the Narrative," a student wellness committee born during last year's suicide cluster. Both Gunn and Paly now have Sources of Strength, a peer-mentoring suicide-prevention program. There are also ongoing efforts to increase connections between current students and alumni through dialogue events, including two this month called "Life After Gunn" and "Life After Paly."

In an email sent to all parents in the district earlier this month, McGee urged parents to "be especially vigilant of your child and their friends" during a stressful time of year that will also see the publication of The Atlantic piece.

"We have not received an advanced copy of the piece, but I imagine it will not be a positive piece and will cast a pall over our community," McGee wrote. "While not all children will be adversely impacted, some certainly will be, and it is not uncommon for the most touched to hide their deepest feelings and fears. ... It is up to all of us to identify those children who need extra attention and sustained support through the next couple of months."

"Check in with them regularly to see how they are managing the demands of the season," he wrote. "Please remind your children to look out for their friends as they are more likely to realize red flags even before parents or teachers do."

Gunn Principal Denise Herrmann, Paly Principal Kim Diorio and Student Services Director Brenda Carrillo will also be working together to prepare a message to send to students and parents at both the middle and high schools. Project Safety Net is also organizing a "Youth Voice Event" for Thursday evening.

Project Safety Net will convene for a regularly scheduled meeting this Thursday, 4-6 p.m., at the Rinconada Library, 1213 Newell Road, Palo Alto. To RSVP, email PSNPaloAlto@gmail.com.

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Any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal can call 800-784-2433 to speak with a crisis counselor. People in Santa Clara County can also call 855-278-4204.

A list of community resources, compiled by the school district, is also available here.

Read more:

Guest opinion: How to help those in crisis

Resources: How to help those in crisis

Q&A: Local experts offer their advice, guidance

The Palo Alto Weekly has created a Storify page to capture the numerous voices, opinions and our news coverage on teen well-being.

Comments

159 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2015 at 9:55 am

This is absolutely ridiculous. If only our schools had responded to suicide as aggressively as they are responding to the Atlantic article. When teens are threatened Skelly and the board did little. When the brand is threatened suddenly everyone is in high gear. Sick place.


124 people like this
Posted by Uh-Oh
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2015 at 10:05 am

This Atlantic article must really be derogatory toward PAUSD to get such an over-the-top reaction.

As Shakespeare once wrote, "Thou doth protest too much!"


150 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2015 at 10:16 am

Maybe it just tells the truth. The district fiddled while Rome burned. Remember Amy Drollette? Remember St. Marks? Remember Kevin Skelly saying the pressure and sleep deprivation of our schools played no role? Remember the years of not implementing the PSN plan? No P-8 only the 41 asset sloganeering do-nothingism. Remember shooting the messenger? Remember going after parents who wanted to raise the red flag? Remember Camille Townsend saying the suicides were all behind us right before they returned? Remember Townsend refusing to believe the evidence on zero period even though the AAP was against it and a student in zero period died? If the article is hard on Palo Alto then it is the article we deserve. God forgive us.


30 people like this
Posted by wmconlon
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2015 at 10:39 am

wmconlon is a registered user.

I look forward to reading this article. I was shocked to realize how sleep deprived our children are in PAUSD. They would 'unfit for duty' and I would send them home to sleep, if they worked for me.

Believing that PAUSD needed oversight on this issue, I wrote the following letter to the City Council. [Web Link]

They took no action, to my knowledge. Thank you, Atlantic for caring about our kids.


236 people like this
Posted by Gunn Grad
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 16, 2015 at 11:00 am

Don't worry about The Atlantic. Articles about Palo Alto student suicides have appeared in The Atlantic, New York Times, and other major news outlets plenty of times already. Focus on the problem. Stop blaming the schools. They're just responding to the community. The curriculum, schedule, sports, AP classes are no different than anywhere else. It's the culture that's the problem. Until kids learn to realize that happiness can exist outside of the present SV egocentric culture and its warped values, this will not change. Ground your kids. Take them camping/backpacking. Have them spend time with grandma and grandpa. Take them to a church/synagogue/temple. Let them help out at a homeless shelter (don't even know where there is one around PA). Let them know you'll love them just the same if they choose to be a neurosurgeon or an auto mechanic. Let them grow into their own skins.


129 people like this
Posted by Turnaround
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 16, 2015 at 11:30 am

May I add to Gunn Grad's fine list: take your turn instead of me-firsting at every opportunity. Smile at the person in line next to you at the grocery and thank the checker and bagger. Come to a complete stop for pedestrians, and try to curb your aggressive tendencies when you're driving. Other drivers have schedules and appointments that are just as important as yours! Invite all kinds of kids over for playdates, not just those whose parents are influential or upwardly mobile, and encourage your kids to get involved in activities that will enable them to meet a lot of different people, not just insulated Palo Altans. Spend time with your loved ones just hanging out, not in any kind of competition or directed toward any particular goal. Adopt a pet from the animal shelter and take long walks around town (being careful for those speeding drivers, of course). We live in a beautiful place with a lot of pretty cool stuff and sometimes it seems as though people are so self-absorbed that they miss out on all of it.


3 people like this
Posted by Tom
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2015 at 11:40 am

[Post removed due to incorrect information.]


75 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 16, 2015 at 11:43 am

Hopefully there will be some ammunition in this to get the college board to act on its shameful application process. They have to take much of the blame and the competitiveness at the high schools just would not exist if they got their act together.

If the college process didn't take so many different tests, exams, etc. into account it would help. 16 and 17 year olds should not be having as many important tests taking place in such a short period of time especially when the schools are not teaching to SAT and ACT requirements. The fact that to do these tests the majority of students need to get tutors to help them prepare show that the schools and the college application process are failing high school students.

I look forward to reading this article.


59 people like this
Posted by mutti allen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 16, 2015 at 11:54 am

I really appreciate the comment by Paly Parent. ETS and the colleges have a huge financial incentive to encourage students to apply to 20+ colleges. I wouldn't let my kids apply to more than 4, and only take the SAT & ACT tests once. They are all successful, happy college grads with good careers and families. I have 5 kids, ages 30 to 40. In the last 12 years the pressure has only gotten worse. Parents can help kids to take it easier. I loved the "rejection wall" that Paly students did. Is it still going?


43 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 16, 2015 at 12:07 pm

Is it the college board or is it the colleges and universities who require the test scores? We've already seen some schools do away with AP weighted GPA submissions on their applications. I would suggest that the enlightened universities in this country can make changes faster than any appeal to the college boards.


18 people like this
Posted by Thanks
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 16, 2015 at 12:07 pm

Thanks, Gunn Grad.


27 people like this
Posted by Admit our falinings and get Teacher Advisory at Gunn ASAP!!
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 16, 2015 at 12:15 pm

As far as I know, there was a superior counseling system in place at Paly that Gunn refused to adopt because of their insistence on site based decisions. I think Paly has an obviously superior system that could potentially derail many students lack of adult touch points on the Gunn campus. I am no longer a parent of a high school student but if I were a Gunn parent I would insist on an equally as good system at Gunn as at Paly. This is a Unified district. Skelly was against providing Teacher Advisory at Gunn. We saw the results of Skelly's "leadership" during both of the clusters. Camille Townsend's opinion on so many things is off base. If we had more board members like Ken Dauber we would be in better shape. The parent group We Can Do Better Palo Alto was advocating for many things that could have potentially helped get help for our students. I applaud the event coming up where we are going to hear from the students. The years and years of "experts" speculating on what is wrong with our students (or their parents), and how we can "fix" it have to come to an end. I am glad that the CDC is getting involved. If our kids were dying from Legionnaires Disease they would have become involved a long time ago. My heart goes out to our students. We have failed them as a community and we should spend less time trying to figure out how to counter the Atlantic article and more time trying to figure out hhow to admit our failings and move forward trying to find better solutions.


25 people like this
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of Los Altos
on Nov 16, 2015 at 12:31 pm

All suicidal youth in our county are still being sent away for treatment despite the fact that mental health is the most common cause of hospital admission among CA youth. In 2014, 5 out of every 1,000 children ages 5- 19 in CA were hospitalized for mental health issues. (Web Link)
Stanford/LPCH and the rest of the hospitals in Santa Clara County must start providing care to our children who are so in need.


33 people like this
Posted by news flash
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 16, 2015 at 12:56 pm

Once again, we see an over-emphasis on Gunn. PALY has had spates of suicides, also, sadly.
Complaining about Gunn not having teacher advisors is really off the mark.


25 people like this
Posted by steve
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 16, 2015 at 1:59 pm

THANK YOU GUNN GRAD...WHAT A WONDERFUL POST!! BEING AN EDUCATOR FOR 30 YEARS...TOO OFTEN I HEARD THE SAME WHINE...IT IS THE SCHOOL'S FAULT!! WAKE UP PARENTS...YOUR CHILDREN NEED YOU...


58 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 16, 2015 at 2:02 pm

Dear Fellow Onliners,

This is a foolish, foolish over-response on the part of the District, if only because it can't help but look defensive, and because it is provoking exactly what the District pretends not to want: more kids to read the article.

In my fifteen years of teaching at Gunn, I don't think I came across a single teenager who was even aware that "The Atlantic" existed. Whenever I mentioned "The Atlantic", or the "New Yorker," or "Harpers," my kids looked up at me as if I were from another planet.

This District effort to discredit the magazine is simply going to bring it to the attention of more young people.

Our District, which signed up for psychological autopsies of the six suicides in 2009-2010 but was not serious about it (underfunding and understaffing the study, then letting it languish), which refuses to make intelligent connections between the school lives of its students and the mental distress and illness they experience, and which has shown itself to lack respect for community input into our community's problem, would be behaving far more becomingly if, even to the smallest degree, it would begin to ask itself the painful question: "In what ways might we have made things worse?"

Last February, Mr. McGee staged a public forum with a panel of experts billed as "Let's Talk: A Community Conversation," but the audience arrived--after the school year's third death--to find an event structured to prevent them from uttering a single word.

In this present instance, the attempt manage and even silence the "conversation" feels much the same.

Sincerely,

Marc Vincenti
Campaign Coordinator
savethe2008.com

P.S. Save the 2,008, a grassroots movement of 400 parents, teachers, students, doctors, professors, attorneys, businesspeople, faith leaders, LMFTs, authors, and more--which aims to create a more hopeful life for Palo Alto's high-schoolers but has been summarily rejected by the Superintendent and Board (excepting Mr. Dauber)--seeks your support at: savethe2008.com


75 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2015 at 2:36 pm

The truth hurts. Palo Alto is a pressure cooker for both children and adults. Palo Alto is quickly becoming an unpleasant place to live. City leaders have turned over the town to high tech workers that don't even live in the city. But, I'll hold on to my expensive Old Palo Alto home. I refuse to sell it to a foreign investor, who will buy the house and leave it empty.


9 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 16, 2015 at 2:45 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

What this article fails to address is:

1. What is it about the article in The Atlantic that has generated this response by local officials? As previous commenters have pointed out, the subject has repeatedly received national and international attention already.

2. More specificity about what the local officials are doing in this response, and how it differs from what has already been done. And what it was that provoked the realization that the previous response was inadequate.

We all can speculate and talk about the history of this situation. What I am interested in is knowing the local officials' perspective on this response.


13 people like this
Posted by Recent Gunn Grad
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 16, 2015 at 3:00 pm

I am glad that the school board is trying to be aware of the article coming out and is setting up certain supports ahead of time. For more than a year now articles on Palo Alto suicides have come out. What some of you don't seem to realize is that as students, we are all hyper aware of all articles that are written, by other students, journalists, or even Palo Alto Online. Every essay is shared on social media, no matter what the message. I have known about this article coming out tomorrow in The Atlantic for several days now, since The Atlantic shared a photo of their December issue's cover online. This is an article that, like the ones before it, everyone will read, but for once the district will have support systems in place to help students as they reprocess the events of the last year yet again.


59 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2015 at 3:06 pm

[Portion removed.] Kids seeing them "prepare" themselves and act as if they care when they actually do still allow AP testing in general sci classes is noticed and upsetting to the kids. Are we all supposed to feel sorry for this administration who continues to test out of bounds and force so much out of school tutoring? I only feel sorry that they are somehow, still after so many tragic losses, saying that out of bounds testing is fine for this population of children because they are smarter than other normal children .

It does not matter who says what, this group of admin. will just have a committee, a meeting and guest speakers hired to tell them that they are ok. Maybe some law firms and even a few students. They are not ok and our kids deserve to have state standards enforced by admin at this public school. This is one piece of the puzzle but still missing.


29 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 16, 2015 at 3:39 pm

The PAUSD has undoubtedly made many mistakes in dealing with student pressure and suicide, some due to denial, some to incompetency, but the main problem is with the Valley's warped value system that has been enormously toxic and poisonous to our culture and perception of success and happiness. It is the Valley that is toxic, many parents fell under its deadly and corruptive spell, and it effected their children, particularly children with mental health issues.


6 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 16, 2015 at 4:02 pm

[Post removed.]


29 people like this
Posted by hmm
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2015 at 4:26 pm

[Post removed.]


20 people like this
Posted by @Craig Laughton
a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2015 at 4:39 pm

[Post removed.]


27 people like this
Posted by Truth and Reconcilation
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2015 at 4:54 pm

[Post removed.]


47 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 16, 2015 at 4:56 pm

I don't completely agree with Gunn Grad above with the comment and over a hundred likes.

It isn't always a case of not making our kids to do all the APs, etc. or an alternative of letting them dream their dream of being happy and sitting back and letting life come as what may be may be.

My philosophy as a parent is to encourage my kids to do their best and aim to achieve all that they want and can. Sometimes it needs some parental encouragement to show them that they are bright, particularly here in Palo Alto when they don't think they can make it since their friends have a higher gpa than they do.

The reason I don't agree with Gunn Grad is because there has to be a middle ground and here in Palo Alto there isn't. Bs and Cs are great and if an occasional A or D come along, that's part of the mix. But these grades should not be the end of the world. These Bs and Cs should still be good enough to become an engineer, a teacher, a scientist, a high tech executive, a world changer or someone just like mom or dad. However, our kids don't get this message. They get a message that unless they are in the top tier then they will end up flipping burgers or similar. That is not the case. A great education is a great education regardless of what the gpa, SAT and grades say. A great education is possible from a CSU. A great education is not dependent on going to an IVY.

When our kids are feeling low because of a poor grade, it isn't the end of the world. It is a bit like riding a bike, if you fall off, you get up and try again because you will end up learning how to do it. You might not be set up for the Tour de France, but you can still be called a bicyclist. Our kids need to know that as parents we can encourage them when they feel they are failing, but that does not make us overbearing parents - just encouragers.

Let me tell you, so many of our middle of the pack kids need to know that they can still become their dreams in spite of what happens in Gunn or Paly.


24 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 16, 2015 at 5:03 pm

PS to my above comment, I do agree completely with the second part of Gunn Grad's comment.

PPS Crescent Park Dad, you're probably more right than me on this, but we are both coming from the same pov.


50 people like this
Posted by Atlantic story
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2015 at 5:40 pm

[Portion removed.]

"At an impromptu gathering at the Lee family's house that afternoon, Cameron's father read his suicide note aloud. In it, Cameron explained that his death had nothing to do with school, friends, or family. The note provided no clear reason for what he'd done, and the community was desperate for one. The only anomaly anyone could identify was that Cameron never seemed to sleep. Alex Gil told me that if you were up at 3 a.m. on a Saturday and needed someone to go to Happy Donuts with you, Cameron was your man. And throughout the week, he was typically on Twitter or Snapchat late at night. When Alex once asked why he was always up at odd hours, Cameron told him he was doing homework..."

Cameron Lee was sleep deprived. Harry Lee was in zero period. Sleep issues pervade this story. Taylor Chiu who attempted suicide, was sleep-deprived from activities and achievement, and says that she experienced "the dangers of not sleeping enough."

Of course there is zero period, too.

This story is about how our students are being driven to suicide by sleeplessness, stress, overwork, and exhaustion.

[Portion removed.]


14 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 16, 2015 at 5:51 pm

"The Atlantic is a Liberal rag", translation, they actually discuss real issues in a thoughtful,intelligent, informative way. The truth is always liberal.


18 people like this
Posted by Bill Bucy
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 16, 2015 at 6:36 pm

That people see the need to organize some kind of a city-wide response prompted by a single magazine article is just evidence the self-absorption that characterizes our community. The problem of adolescent suicide is evident to everyone -- particularly young people who live with the pressure that causes it and see what it does to their peers. Fussing about yet another article is little more than grownups worried about their image.


24 people like this
Posted by Truth and Reconciliation
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2015 at 7:41 pm

[Post removed.]


27 people like this
Posted by Truth and Reconciliation
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2015 at 7:44 pm

"That people see the need to organize some kind of a city-wide response prompted by a single magazine article is just evidence the self-absorption that characterizes our community. "

@Bill Bucy,

Or, as they say, perhaps the guilty flee where no man pursueth....


21 people like this
Posted by Gunn Student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 16, 2015 at 7:45 pm

The name of the article and the picture sensationalize this story. It's rude and disrespectful to the Gunn community and the families of the kids who have taken their lives. It's important to talk about suicide and mental health, but this story is pointing fingers, once again, at the school district and families. Suicide is complex and can never be pinned down to one reason. This kind of article doesn't further the conversation, and I'm disappointed in The Atlantic for running this article when multiple members of the student body expressed discomfort over it.


17 people like this
Posted by Atlantic Story
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2015 at 7:55 pm

Web Link



16 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 16, 2015 at 8:02 pm



I read the story. It didn't seem that bad. In the end, it seems that we really don't know why people takes their lives and probably never will. I didn't feel it was too rough on Gunn or PALY kids or that the school district needed to panic over it. Not that we didn't know all the facts anyway.


19 people like this
Posted by Survivor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2015 at 8:30 pm

I'm here to tell you that from personal experience, I know that suicides are NEVER caused by one simplistic thing. It is ALWAYS a co binational of issues, and then one more stresser comes along that becomes the straw that broke the camel's back. The suicide victim is pushed over the edge by this, but it is ALWAYS an accumulation of stresses that lead up to the overload.

ALL of the stresses need to be addressed, including an intolerance for stress, that need to be addressed. Once everything snowballs, it is overwhelming and not much can be done. The trick is for parents to PAY ATTENTION to their kids: not sleeping, oversleeping, irritability, losing interest in the things they previously loved.

[Portion removed.]


42 people like this
Posted by the missing pieces
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2015 at 8:34 pm

Ms. Rosin generally did an admirable job writing a sensitive piece about a very troubling and difficult subject, acknowledging that "the closer I got to the heart of this story, the less I felt I understood...there may be things about [children] we can't know or understand."

She seems to be a careful and conscientious writer, who was learning as she investigated.

The extremely important part she missed though, which she could easily have addressed had someone thought to share it with her, is how to write this in a way that would not contribute to a contagion.

So it is exceptionally troubling that Rosin's official PAUSD sources, School Board Member Ken Dauber and Paly Principal Kim Diorio - two who took a vow to protect the welfare of our students and know inside and out the protective measures that are needed so that PAUSD does not put vulnerable students in harms way - participated in this story, Ken Dauber even posed for a portrait, without getting Rosin's assurance that she would report this responsibly and by doing so protect our community's kids.

This story violates 7 of the 8 rules that the CDC and others set for media.

AVOID

1. Big or sensationalistic headlines. Check. ("The SV Suicides")

2. Describing the method. Check. (28 times, with a picture)

3. Including photos/videos of the location or method of death, grieving family, friends. Check. (3 of them)

4. Describing it as an "epidemic," "skyrocketing," or other strong terms. Check. (at least 3 times)

5. Describing it as inexplicable or "without warning." Check. (at least 5 times)

6. Mentioning a note. Check.

7. Reporting it the same why as one would a crime story. Check.

8. Saying it was "successful," "unsuccessful," or something similar.






29 people like this
Posted by Joe Bloe
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2015 at 8:42 pm

There's so much more to life than GPA's and getting into Harvard. Until Palo Alto families embrace that simple concept, the problem won't abate.

Note that The Atlantic article is about suicide clusters in Palo Alto -- not Redwood City, not Belmont, not San Bruno or any other community along the Caltrain tracks. Same trains, same tracks. Only Palo Alto.

I graduated from Paly in 1973, before Silicon Valley, Apple computer, SUV's and McMansions. In 1973, Palo Alto was not yet the enclave of Silicon-Valley materialism it is today. In those days, no student ever walked in front of a train; such a thing was absolutely unheard of. We poured soap in the Calif. Ave. fountain, we played the guitar and protested the Vietnam war. We were hardly suicidal, not even remotely.


16 people like this
Posted by Gunn Senior
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 16, 2015 at 9:00 pm

I agree with poster @Parent. The article was...underwhelming at best. I do not fully understand why PAUSD administration felt a need to draw so much attention to it; the piece was not markedly different from articles that appeared in the New York Times and other publications (and was in my personal opinion drastically superior to the article that appeared in Vice several months ago).

I've spoken with several other students on the article, and as far as we can see, it's little more than a fluff piece. The vast majority of the article is spent trying to diagnose the problems at hand before eventually drawing on the conclusion: nobody's sure what's wrong. It speculates on affluence, sleep-deprivation and overlarge workloads, while punctuating every few paragraphs with thinly veiled anti-Asian sentiments, but it does not come to any clear answers, and does not present any information that people following Palo Alto's situation are not already familiar with. It's an upsetting article to read, but I did not find its content to be more damaging than that of any other piece on the suicides.

The main issue with the article is that it clearly violates CDC guidelines for reporting on suicide contagion, and with that in mind, it is rather perplexing as to why PAUSD administration felt the need to make sure all students and parents involved in the district high schools were aware of the article the moment it was released. Seems like it drew attention to this piece which it would not have otherwise received.


17 people like this
Posted by Atlantic Story
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 16, 2015 at 9:14 pm

[Portion removed.]

The district and community needs to stop over-reacting to this and spreading hype. Saying that the article "casts a pall" over the community is out of all proportion. It's just an article.

I already said what I think is causing the panic reaction which is that one thesis of the piece is that homework and sleep deprivation were a serious contributing cause of the epidemic. Another thesis is that the community is defensive and in denial, and not taking enough steps soon enough.

Despite the "talking points" and Meg Durbin's email listing them, the fact is that the district and community DIDN'T do enough soon enough. It was only after the second cluster, 2 school board elections, and the not-soon-enough departure of Kevin Skelly that we actually got down to doing anything at all about this in a serious way. Everyone knows that is true, especially Durbin herself, Joshi, and the rest of them. They were waiting for years for Skelly to exit so that progress could be made. He was in fact in denial and defensive. He did in fact not take enough responsibility or do enough fast enough.

[Portion removed.]


7 people like this
Posted by PAUSD High School Teacher
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 16, 2015 at 9:34 pm

PAUSD High School Teacher is a registered user.

@the missing pieces

Like you, I am deeply troubled by the reporter's seeming disregard of the CDC's guidelines on reporting deaths that are sometimes a devastating consequence of mental health distress. Healthful dialogue is a good thing - just today my students discussed the tragic losses in France. As with other difficult discussions, there were stark observations and hard questions.

When we think about supporting our youth, even as we wrestle with these topics as adults, we are called to do so in a way that puts our young people first. An article on the first anniversary of Cameron's death fails to meet this obligation that we, as the adults in the room, must honor.

Regrettably, the Atlantic Monthly's staff writer and editorial staff shirked their responsibilty to our youth.


23 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2015 at 9:55 pm

Paly Alum is a registered user.

I attended Paly in the early 80s and academics weren't as difficult then. Regular lane and AP classes were easier.

My children have experience in public schools out-of-state and in California and I can tell you it's the teachers' interpretation of the curriculum that is making the classes so rigorous which leads to extreme stress. Teachers follow curriculum, but they can make a class easy or difficult. Case in point, is a new teacher we had who taught in a underprivileged community prior to teaching at Paly. She kept telling the students here that they were so smart. And she expected too much from our students. No doubt, she thought our students could handle more than her past students. We had to help our child with the rigorous homework. God help those children who didn't have a tutor or parental help.

While there are some good teachers who have reasonable expectations, there is a fair amount who are plain, bad teachers, others who expect too much from high school students, others who write extremely difficult tests, others who assign way too much homework (what happened to the approved 10 minute per grade level rule which was never be enacted?), and others who are lazy because they expect that the students will just hire tutors.

There is a lot of tutoring going on, and not just for "A" grades. Many teachers expect too much from our students.

It's an assumption that Palo Alto parents all have their sights set on elite universities. Many of us have children who are just trying to keep their heads above water.

Simply put, would these PAUSD students have committed suicide if they weren't stressed-out by academics?


20 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2015 at 11:03 pm

outsider is a registered user.

I can not believe the principal and a board member contributed to this as main sources, had posed pictures taken and then are "bracing" themselves. CDC protocol should be followed but was not. It would be proper and fitting to have been silent.


13 people like this
Posted by Be Kind PA
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Nov 16, 2015 at 11:15 pm

Be Kind PA is a registered user.

>> I do not fully understand why PAUSD administration felt a need to draw so much attention to it

How much did PAUSD do to draw attention to it, and how much did the Palo Alto Weekly / Palo Alto Online do to draw attention to it?


17 people like this
Posted by parent2
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 16, 2015 at 11:24 pm

parent2 is a registered user.

Here are the CDC guidelines for reporting: Web Link

This story appears to me to comply with all of them. The only one that seems somewhat dicey is the following:

"--Focusing on the suicide completer's positive characteristics.

Empathy for family and friends often leads to a focus on reporting the positive aspects of a suicide completer's life. For example, friends or teachers may be quoted as saying the deceased person "was a great kid" or "had a bright future," and they avoid mentioning the troubles and problems that the deceased person experienced. As a result, statements venerating the deceased person are often reported in the news. However, if the suicide completer's problems are not acknowledged in the presence of these laudatory statements, suicidal behavior may appear attractive to other at-risk persons -- especially those who rarely receive positive reinforcement for desirable behaviors."

The description of Cameron Lee seems close to this. However, Rosin notes that he suffered from sleep deprivation, which he attributed to homework but could have been attributable to other causes. I also think that the story itself is extremely careful to present suicide as complicated, and not attributable to any one cause. It even says this in both the writer's voice an in the words of Kathleen Blanchard, multiple times.

In terms of the criticism of Dioro and others who agreed to be interviewed, the CDC guidelines specifically say that refusing to comment is not an effective strategy. I note (apropos Meg Durbin's letter to Rosin trying to influence her coverage) that "Health professionals or other public officials should not try to tell reporters what to report or how to write the news regarding suicide." It therefore appears that it is Palo Alto's community leaders who are telling Rosin what to write are breaching the guidelines not the reporter.

I think it is interesting that the two parents who were willing to talk to the reporter were those who have lost children to suicide. They each have a passion to share their message about what they think is important to prevent suicide to other parents because they both know what it means to lose a child to this terrible cause. It takes chutzpa to think that you can judge either of them.


5 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2015 at 11:57 pm

Palo Alto Mom is a registered user.

The article was sensationalist and disrespectful to the Palo Alto community. Many current and former students responded in the comments section as to how hurt and insulted they were by it. The writer should be ashamed of herself for her irrelevant data, false conclusions, tricking the reader into thinking she had wisdom to offer and for causing further pain to families that have suffered unspeakable tragedies and a community that is hurting and desperately seeking solutions.


12 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of another community
on Nov 17, 2015 at 12:23 am

outsider is a registered user.

In reading Kim Diorio's advice to the columnist to ask the kids what makes them happy and her comment that they do not have any is insulting to all the kids and all the parents. Does she think she is behind glass? Maybe the kids are really smart and just do not really like talking to her because they know it will be repeated in an article. Maybe they are happy. I hope so. Talking about her own students this way so publicly is wrong. sorry. Student trust and safety trump whatever a random interviewer requests


2 people like this
Posted by Michael O.
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 17, 2015 at 9:58 pm

Michael O. is a registered user.

It's a great article. You should all read the whole thing if you haven't. I live here, I have a child at Gunn, and I think the article is fine. So does my high schooler.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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