A high school principal in Hastings, New Zealand, is facing backlash after he sent a letter to parents in wake of a student’s suicide.
The letter, signed by Karamu High School Principal Michael Leitch, read “Last night ... a Year 11 student took her own life. This is an irreversible and unacceptable choice that she has made and one that, along with her family and friends, we are deeply saddened about.”
Mental health advocate Mike King criticized the school and said the letter seemingly blamed the student for the act. He further added the school named the student clearly in the letter and immediately identified the death as suicide.
“The letter was sent to parents after the tragic suicide of a Year 11 student last week. A child who sees no way to escape her pain takes her own life and all she receives from us is blame, shame and judgment?” he said.
King said although the intention of the school was good but the way the message was delivered was “appalling.”
“When I first started speaking in schools and listening to suicidal kids, and seeking advice from kids who had lost friends to suicide, their message was clear and consistent, ‘We can't talk to your generation because when we do, you make it all about you and you make us feel worse.’ Four years on we are still doing the same thing, only now we are putting it in writing.” he stated.
When reached out for a comment, Leitch said the sole focus of the school was to think about the student’s family and refused to comment on anything other than that at the moment.
“For those of us facing this sad issue in our schools, we try to do our very best for our students, our families and our community. Every one of us at this school feels deeply for the student and her family and friends, and we do not want the letter to overshadow what they are going through,” he said.
According to the Ministry of Education, the high school was automatically offered help after the death, however officials refused assistance. The ministry offers support to schools who deal with such unfortunate incidents.
“We did of course automatically offer this school help, but the principal had arranged other support including from Child, Adolescent and Family Services at the local district health board. The school did not seek our advice or support for writing to parents and caregivers and it didn’t use any of our templates. Any school faced with a student’s suspected self-inflicted death struggles to find the right words to talk to students about this,” said Katrina Casey, head of sector enablement and support.
Amanda Hildreth, a commenter, said, “I received this letter and both my child and myself were extremely horrified with the wording!”
“That could of been handled differently.... Its easy to see that whoever wrote this was angry or upset... Or didn't know what too say. Doesn't make it better but now the school knows not to write that,” said another commenter.
Mike King critical of school letter after student's death https://t.co/iJoZwuOFPw— Mihingarangi Forbes (@Mihi_Forbes) August 7, 2017
""This is an irreversible and unacceptable choice that she has made.." Bad choice of words to use in a letter too. Poor Kids see no way out.— Liz Clark (@madbushfarm) August 7, 2017
Thanks for speaking up Mike. This kind of attitude only reinforces the stigma around mental illness and suicide. Really sad.— Beckie (@FitKiwi) August 7, 2017
Thumbnail Credits: Reuters