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Parents blame school for teacher's suicide

LARGO — The parents of a Largo Middle School teacher who took her life on campus last week say a lack of support from the school system when it came to disciplining students contributed to her suicide.

Gene and Carolyn Taylor said their daughter, Linda Joy Taylor, had depression. But they said she also was contending with student problems that almost rose to the level of death threats against her.

"If you didn't care, if you're very well-balanced, you might be able to handle it," said Gene Taylor, 74. "She constantly put herself under stress to navigate the insanity at school."

He declined to go into more detail.

Ms. Taylor, 47, a popular seventh-grade language arts teacher, shot herself in front of the school Dec. 22. A maintenance worker found her body.

Ms. Taylor left a six-page suicide note that basically "blasted the principal" of the school, said Largo police Lt. Mike Loux.

The principal, Fred Ulrich, acknowledged that there had been an incident with a student, but maintained that Ms. Taylor was not "in harms way." He said the school followed protocol when disciplining students.

"Sometimes the expectations of support are not met because they're unrealistic expectations," Ulrich said. "There were some issues with a couple students and, quite frankly, when those come to our attention in the form of a referral, we act responsibly and according to School Board policy."

Ulrich also acknowledged that some students had lodged a "minor" complaint against Ms. Taylor, but he said he couldn't comment specifically about it.

Ulrich, who is aware of the gist of the suicide note, said he's concerned that it unfairly blames him for what happened.

• • •

People who take their lives also attach meaning to the place they commit the act, said Robert I. Simon, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

"It's one piece of important information when trying to understand why someone has committed suicide," Simon said.

Simon said he couldn't comment specifically on Ms. Taylor's situation, but he said most suicides are linked to psychiatric disorders. Depression is commonly associated with suicide, he said.

Rarely do people who are angry at another individual kill themselves, Simon said.

Ulrich said he didn't know how distraught Ms. Taylor was before her death.

Sometime after Thanksgiving, he learned that Ms. Taylor wanted to leave the school. An assistant principal from a school in Citrus County called him for a recommendation and he gave Ms. Taylor a "sterling one," he said.

Ms. Taylor resigned the second week of December, but later rescinded it, Ulrich said.

The last day of school before the holidays, he wished her Merry Christmas in the hall.

She smiled and said, "You, too," Ulrich recalled.

• • •

Ms. Taylor's death has triggered an outpouring of affection from her students and peers.

Last week, they set up a makeshift memorial at the school.

A cross of white carnations sits on the front lawn. A T-shirt with messages from students hangs near the school entrance.

"I love you Ms. Taylor. Forever," one says.

"You will never be forgotten," says another.

"Linda Joy Taylor We love you!! I hope they have Starbucks in heaven," someone wrote on the school wall.

Ulrich, who has worked for the school system for nearly 38 years, said he is dealing with his own grief and shock.

"I'm personally devastated. For the school family and for the whole Largo Middle School community, it's just tragic," he said.

Judy Roe, a retired teacher who taught with Ms. Taylor up until 2007, said she knew that Ms. Taylor was remarkable immediately upon meeting her. "She just had a love for teaching," Roe said.

Ms. Taylor of Belleair Bluffs, who began her teaching career with the district in March 2000, took a "kid-oriented," one-on-one approach, she said.

Besides her passion for teaching, Ms. Taylor also had a reputation for supporting others.

Ms. Taylor reached out to the family of Cornelius Plunkett when his daughters, Melody and Maria, attended Largo Middle several years ago.

Ms. Taylor learned the family was struggling financially. So around Thanksgiving, she left an anonymous basket stuffed with turkey, potatoes and other fixings on their balcony. Plunkett found out later it was from her. "We weren't the only family that she helped," Plunkett said.

Gene Taylor said he is proud of his daughter's talent as a teacher and how she contributed to the lives of others.

"She was just an unusually sensitive and intelligent person and had a lot of qualities to share with people," he said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or 445-4155.

>>Fast facts

Memorial service

A memorial service for Taylor is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Anona United Methodist Church, 13233 Indian Rocks Road, Largo. Other survivors include two sisters, Terry Taylor of Belleair Bluffs and Carol Wilks of Lexington, S.C., and a brother, Kerry Taylor of Fort Lauderdale. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to SPCA TampaBay, 9099 130th Ave., Largo, FL 33773.

Parents blame school for teacher's suicide 12/30/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 4:58pm]
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