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Letter to Parents - 13 Reasons Why

posted May 1, 2017, 1:24 PM by Tim Piwowar
To all:

     The letter below was sent to the parents/guardians of our middle school and high school students earlier today, regarding the Netflix series "13 Reasons Why".  The purpose behind sending this letter was two-fold.  The first purpose was to raise awareness among our parent community regarding the depiction of themes of sexual assault, suicide, cyberbullying, alcohol use, and depression in the series, and how it depicts a fictional story that is not the norm.  The second purpose was to provide information about what our school community does to support students, and to share information about what parents and students can do if they become aware that someone they know is struggling with suicidal thoughts.

      We hope that this may help open the line of communication between parents and students who may have watched the series, and we also encourage you to reach out to Ms. Cripps or Ms. Flynn if you need further information or support.

May 5, 2017 

Dear Parents and Guardians, 

Addressing the social and emotional needs of our students is an important focus of the Billerica Public School System, which is why we are taking the time to shed light on the recent release of a Netflix series entitled “13 Reasons Why”. This series is the story of a young teen’s suicide and the 13 tapes she leaves behind to be listened to by those she perceives have contributed to her fatal decision. A major note of caution when viewing the series is the graphic depiction of sexual assault, suicide, cyberbullying, alcohol use and depression. Many healthcare professionals have voiced concern about the series in that it presents unsafe and mixed messages to teens regarding suicide and survivors of suicide. There are major concerns with many aspects portrayed in each episode, such as romanticizing suicide, a lack of adult support, memorializing of the person who killed herself, placing blame and insufficient treatment. The main character Hannah’s story is fictional, tragic, and not the norm. Unfortunately, teens might not recognize that when watching the series. 

While many youths are resilient and can differentiate between real life and a TV series, engaging in thoughtful conversations with them about the storyline of the show is vital. This will give your child the opportunity to process the issues addressed and for you to reinforce the message that suicide is not a solution to problems. Help is available. 

What does our school community do to support students: 
Our team of school counselors has been made aware of the impact of this series and are prepared to provide supports you or your child may need. If you have a concern or question, we encourage you to work closely with the school counseling team at your child’s school. Billerica Public Schools offers the following to students and families:

     • The Signs of Suicide prevention education curriculum is provided in middle and high school health classes. 
     • Social Workers and Nurses are available for students at every school in the district. 
     • School Counselors are available to students at middle and high school. 
     • Health Education is provided to every student K-12 in which they practice skills around decision making, communication, coping, and stress reduction. 

What can you or your child do if you become aware that someone in your life is struggling with suicidal thoughts:
     • Do not leave the person alone.
     • Alert a professional to help you: Guidance Counselor, Social Worker, Pediatrician, Teacher, School Administrator, Emergency Room, Urgent Care, call 911.
     • Remind children not to keep it secret if a friend or family member shares that they are thinking about harming themselves. They need to tell a trusted adult. 

Click here for additional talking points from the JED Foundation, which focuses on suicide prevention. 

It is our hope that discussing the show with your children will open up lines of communication about the serious issue of suicide. Do not hesitate to reach out to us at any time if you need further information or support. 

Melinda L. Cripps 
Director of Guidance 

Jennifer Flynn 
Coordinator of Health Services and Wellness  
Tim Piwowar,
May 1, 2017, 1:24 PM