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Community mourns loss of longtime teacher

September 27, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Heartfelt messages, candles and flowers were set up in front of the school, as parents, staff and current and former students gathered to mourn the death of Rigoberto Ruelas, a popular teacher who taught fifth grade."We can't really believe it, because he helped anybody, no matter if he knew him or not, he still helped them. He always said, 'Hi,' with a big smile," said former student Marbel Chabarin.

"Very caring, nurturing, concerned teacher, 14 years as a classroom teacher and a number of years as a teacher's assistant, 10 years without having been absent," said the school's principal, Martin Sandoval.

Ruelas had been reported missing after failing to show up at school Sept. 22. His body was found Sunday near Big Tujunga Canyon, 100 feet below a bridge where his car was found. Authorities believe Ruelas committed suicide by apparently jumping off the bridge.

Family members and friends said Ruelas was upset about scoring less than average on a teacher rating report made public by the Los Angeles Times on its website.

"He got all of the students that were Mexicans, and tried to make the best out of them," said Lorraine Salcido, a parent. "For people to put him down, the media, the L.A. Times, that's not right."

The teacher's union,United Teachers Los Angeles, is also upset about the Times' list.

"I'm not going to draw a direct line between the tragedy of what happened to him to that, but from the accounts that we hear, it was playing a part in what he talked about in being stressed about having that label," said Julie Washington with the UTLA.

The Times issued a statement saying, "We understand that the sheriff's department is currently investigating Mr. Ruelas' death. We extend our sympathy to his family.

"The Times published the database, which is based on seven years of state test scores in the LAUSD schools, because it bears directly on the performance of public employees who provide an important service, and in the belief that parents and the public have a right to judge the data for themselves."

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines visited Miramonte Elementary School on Monday morning and extended his condolences to Ruelas' family. He also described him as a passionate and caring teacher who put his students first.


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