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US school's homework for students: Write suicide notes

Parents revealed their horror after finding out students at a $41,000-a-year Manhattan private school were instructed to write suicide notes for their homework. The teenagers at York Prep were given the macabre assignment by their English teacher. But parents of the elite private school blasted the task of writing a first-person suicide note as ‘inappropriate’.

The students were asked to write the letter from the perspective of May Boatwright, a character who kills herself in The Secret Life of Bees, a best-selling book and film. “We were pretty stunned at the scope of the assignment,” said a father of a ninth-grade student at the school. “We thought this was such an outrageous assignment for a 14-year-old to get,” he added. “We pay a lot of money to send our kids to the school.”

Headmaster Ronald Stewart said that he had not received any complaints from the parents. On its website the school bills itself as an ‘outstanding’ educational establishment. “York Prep is a co-educational, independent, private day school offering a traditional curriculum for grades 6-12. In the belief that every student can succeed, this Manhattan preparatory school provides a challenging yet supportive atmosphere that makes York Prep outstanding among private schools in New York.”

Not the first time
Last year, a French teacher has been suspended after asking a class full of teenagers to write suicide notes. He told the 13 to 14 year olds to imagine what they would say to themselves if they were about to end their lives out of ‘disgust’ for their lives. The assignment, set in October, read : ‘You’ve just turned 18. You’ve decided to end your life. Your decision is definitive’. In 2008, a school near Bridgend, Wales, England sparked outrage after pupils were ordered to write imaginary suicide notes in class. Students aged just 13 were told to carry out the exercise in an English lesson in order to ‘get into the mind of a troubled teenager’.

Troubling times
Child psychologists have regularly pointed out the dangers of mixing teenage angst with thoughts of suicide. The revelation comes at a troubling time — last week it was revealed nearly 1 in 6 high school students has seriously considered suicide, and 1 in 12 has attempted it, according to the semi-annual survey on youth risk behavior by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, resulting in approximately 4,600 lives lost each year.

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