At the almost secret special school board club meeting of March 2 (that’s the meeting that was announced only 23 hours before the legal deadline), N-M parent Erica Roberts tried to provide the school board with some expanded thoughts on the January suicide of student Patrick Turner.

The indignation was apparent the moment that Roberts mentioned his name. When she was done, two club members, Vicki Snell and Karen Yelsey, chose to ambush her by scolding her from the dais without giving her an opportunity to respond. As speaker Wendy Leece stated in her comments following Roberts, it was “bullying.”

After Roberts was done, Snell said:

“I am horrified and disgusted that you would bring up a student and use a student to make your points. If you were that student’s parent, you would not appreciate it.”

It was at that point that Snell did not allow Roberts to explain her motives and Snell called the next speaker to the podium.

But Snell’s misplaced indignation wasn’t enough for Yelsey, who felt compelled to pile on Roberts. Yelsey said:

“I feel really strongly about this because I know that family – I know what’s going on – and unless that family has told you to speak on their behalf or on their child’s behalf, please don’t do that again.”

Apparently, it is only OK to talk about Turner if you know the family personally. Forget about the tremendous value of opening a discussion about the teen suicide crisis across America. Can’t discuss that unless you have permission.

Snell and Yelsey are to be forgiven for their reactions because they were just doing what the N-M trustees have been doing for decades, which is to sweep every problem, every scandal, under the rug until everyone eventually forgets about it and tennis anyone?

That includes the suicide of a student. Perhaps particularly the suicide of a student.

They just don’t know any other way.

This time, however, their plan has backfired mightily. On the front page of today’s Orange County Register, columnist David Whiting explores the subject of teen suicide and places Patrick Turner front and center: Pictures of Turner, family quotes, quotes from the letters he left, and more. It is way more than Roberts presented and to a much, much larger audience.

What is screaming from Whiting’s story is the absence of any mention of the district, how they are handling this suicide, what they are doing to prevent others, and how they will use Turner’s death to remind us of the excellent advice he gave us before he took his life. (Note: Whiting does quote from a letter to students from Newport Harbor principal Sean Boulton, but that was not an official district communication.)

So, now that the Register has blasted this out into the world, can we talk about the legacy of Patrick Turner? Or should we sweep this under the rug, too?

And should Snell and Yelsey apologize to Roberts for how they manhandled her simply for having the foresight they lack? Of course. But they do not have the strength of character to do that. (If they could not apologize to the Estancia aquatics teams, coaches, and parents for stupidly draining the swimming pool and wrecking their experience, they surely do not have it in them to apologize to Roberts.)

As Snell stormed out of the room after the March 2 meeting, she said to Roberts, then to the rest of us, “You should be ashamed of yourself. All of you.”

I am sure that Snell and Yelsey are even more outraged at the audacity of David Whiting to bring up Patrick Turner’s suicide. So as a favor to them, here is David Whiting’s e-mail address so they can tell him off, too:

As a result of the light shined by Whiting, the district will follow protocol and do absolutely nothing. Instead of seizing the moment, they have seized up.

My recommendation… I believe it would be a small, but solemn and graceful tribute if on the 27th of each month on the campus of CdM High, a bell could be rung 16 times – once for every year of Turner’s life.

Ringing the bell each month would remind the students, teachers, and administrators of what I believe Turner would want us to do, as expressed in one of his letters: Step on the brake.


Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD