It’s been a very difficult several weeks here in Newton. I want to take a moment to provide some insight into what we are doing and will do soon for our students and faculty.
First, our thoughts continue to be with the families of Karen Douglas, the Newton North student who took her own life two weeks ago, and Katie Stack, the Newton South student who also took her own life last Wednesday.
When responding to a crisis of this nature, school staff and leadership work closely with partners who are experts in this field – Dr. Larry Berkowitz and his team at Riverside Trauma Center – as well as our district-level staff to follow a nationally recognized protocol developed with best practices in suicide prevention in mind.
Suicide is an incredibly difficult topic to write and talk about, especially in a school setting. We are concerned for the family’s privacy. We want to ensure that authorities have the time to complete their investigation. We also know from the experts with whom we consult that the way in which we respond has an impact on student safety. We want to honor the student and her family. And we also know we must be careful not to sensationalize or romanticize suicide while we are providing support and comfort to each other.
Our first step was/is to provide for the emotional safety for the most vulnerable members of our community. Our goal is to identify and connect with each and every student and adult whom we think might need support. This consumed all of our time and energy Thursday, Friday, and even Monday. Yesterday was the first day that felt more like a normal school day. I want to point out that our support staff here at South (and in the district) are second to none, and have been simply amazing. They are incredible people and wonderful professionals. We are so very fortunate to have them as part of our team. And, now that the school has stabilized, our support staff are available to help plan our next steps.
The next stage in the protocol calls for informing and educating the adults. This part of the process began with Monday evening’s community meeting, and continued yesterday with both high school faculties meeting for training with the Riverside professionals. In the very near future we will share plans of how we will provide opportunities for our students to join in this education and conversation.
It is important to note that, as part of honoring Katie and the Stack family, this student component of discussing mental health issues – including depression and the relationship to suicide – will occur after Katie’s funeral, which is this coming Sunday. This sequence, too, follows the advice of our experts.
As I requested yesterday, if your child is planning on attending the funeral service, we strongly urge you to attend with your child. And, as always, please share any concerns you have about your child’s safety with your guidance counselor or housemaster.
Thank you again for your support and partnership.