The Hermiston School District made a very questionable decision Wednesday when it announced on its website the tragic suicide of one of its students.

The school district went so far as to release the child’s name, grade and school. Apparently, the youth had committed suicide while at home. While this is a tragic circumstance, the school district could have shown more discretion and tact in the matter.

It is unusual for a newspaper to admonish a public agency for releasing too much information, but, in this case, the school district did just that.

It is standard newspaper protocol not to release the names of people who commit suicide, except for very special circumstances: if they are a public figure or they commit suicide in a public place.

While school districts follow different protocols, it is hard to fathom the necessity or rationale for advertising the circumstances behind the child’s death as well as name, grade and school on its website.

As of Friday, the public announcement, detailing all of the circumstances in the incident, was still on its website.

Furthermore, when a Hermiston Herald reporter contacted the school district to ask about its policies about releasing information in cases such as this, the reporter was informed the district would not be commenting further on the matter.

School districts and public agencies, in general, should make transparency a priority and a practice rather than an afterthought.

When dealing children, however, and especially the death of a child, school officials need to be very thoughtful about what information should be released to satisfy the district’s obligations.

If anything, trying to maintain the student’s privacy, not to mention that of the family’s, should be a top priority.

District officials technically did not do anything wrong — a person’s privacy following death cannot be expected, but the question is not whether they can, but whether they should. They were certainly not obligated to do so.

It is also a little hard to reconcile the school district choosing to post so much information about the student’s death on its website with a district official’s refusal to explain why the district chose to do so in the first place.

Suicide is a serious issue, but the school district’s announcement went beyond informing people about the death of a student and directing parents and students to resources available in helping them cope with the death.

A tragedy such as this deserves a more thoughtful response from the school district.

We can only hope the child’s parents sanctioned such intimate details being released for the whole world to see.

It is the World Wide Web, after all.

While the school district clearly recognized a responsibility in addressing this situation, especially when it came to offering assistance to grieving students, a detailed announcement was not appropriate nor was the school district’s website the appropriate forum in which to communicate its message.

Much of that could have been handled entirely at the school level, for starters.

Wanting to advise parents of the situation so they can be aware of any changes of behavior in their own children is also understandable, but even that could have been handled differently, such as through emails or text messages, etc.

In this instance, district officials should have taken a more hands-on, circumspect approach when trying to accomplish its goals.

The death of a student, whatever its nature, is terrible.

How the school district responded in this situation is questionable, from the contents of the announcement, even if it did include condolences, to the forum in which it was shared.

Sensitivity in these situations is key, but it should be displayed in other ways than a website announcement.

— Jessica Keller is the editor of the Hermiston Herald. Contact her at, 541-564-4533

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