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Letter from the Superintendent

May 19, 2017

I wanted to touch on two different issues you may have heard about and provide some thoughts for you as parents.  First is an app that several teachers and administrators have overheard students talking about called the “Blue Whale Challenge”.  Second is a series on Netflix focused on the topic of suicide. 

The Blue Whale Challenge is a bit of a mystery for local, state, and federal authorities.  There have been a lot of conversations in the media about it.  Rumor has it that the challenge ends with an encouragement that the individual take his or her own life.  While this is definitely rumor at this point, several students, including elementary age children, have been heard discussing this “challenge,” so I felt it important to alert you to it.  Obviously, schools are intervening as we become aware of such conversations in helping to support students.  Our greater concerns are the conversations we may not be aware of.

The other topic I wanted to discuss was the new Netflix series titled 13 Reasons Why, and its possible impact on our students. 13 Reasons Why is gaining popularity and we have concerns that the series may increase thoughts of suicide among students.   The show is based on a novel and the story of 17-year-old girl who takes her own life. She leaves behind 13 recordings explaining the reasons why she chose to commit suicide. While the show brings up the importance to talk about suicidal thoughts, it portrays situations where youth are dealing with serious issues, from bullying to sexual assault, without getting support from adults.

The series has been rated TV-MA for mature audiences, however, many middle school aged children have been viewing the series. While we should by no means avoid the discussion of mental health issues, our concerns stem from the idea that this series may glamorize teen suicide for some of our children. Furthermore, we are concerned that parents may be unaware that their children may be watching this program.  The series presents the aftermath of the suicide in a captivating and dramatic fashion, not in a realistic manner. Critics have expressed concerns that the series doesn’t treat the very real problem of teen suicide seriously or realistically, and, have expressed concern that the series in fact romanticizes teen suicide.

If your child has already viewed the series, we would encourage that you consider beginning a discussion about the series with your child.  SAVE (The Suicide Awareness of Voices in Education) has put out an article entitled Talking Points for New Netflix Series - 13 Reasons Why. This piece, (CLICK HERE), can assist you in starting such a conversation with your child if you are looking for guidance. Students in a school district in California have also taken a proactive stance against this series, generating a program called 13 Reasons Why Not. You may read more about that HERE

If your child has not yet watched 13 Reasons Why, there are several professional mental health organizations who have taken the opinion that they not be encouraged to watch the series. If you have concerns about your child viewing this or other TV-MA shows on Netflix, and are looking for information regarding their Parental Controls, please click HERE for help with making the desired adjustments.

Attached is a letter from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) regarding the series. It provides guidance for educators and families and may also be found HERE.  Thank you, as always, for your continued partnership, and, for taking the time to read this email. We care deeply about every child at our school and welcome the opportunity to work with you each day to ensure the success of every child at Durango 9-R.

To repeat from my prior letter, please know that there are many resources in our community to help and support adults and children.  If your child or someone close to you is in crisis, please utilize the resources below: 

Axis Health System: 24-hour crisis hotline at (970) 247-5245 
National Suicide Prevention hotline: (800) 273-TALK (8255)  RED Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio: (888) 628-9454 
National Crisis text Hotline: 741741 
Boys Town Hotline: (800) 448-3000
Safe2Tell Colorado: (877) 542-7233 
Colorado Crisis Services Support Line: (844) 493-8255
Trevor Project: (866) 488-7386. This is a crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth. 
Second Wind Fund: (720) 962-0706. This is not a crisis hotline, but the fund is available to youth who face social or financial barriers to crisis counseling.  Students may receive services by referral.

Most importantly, please talk with your student about the importance of being a friend.  The “code of silence” is something we must overcome as a community if we are to successfully help students in crisis.  Sadly, when a student is aware of deep despair in a friend and they don’t take action to help, it can lead to deep feelings of guilt and concern.  A great resource is our Safe2Tell Colorado which can be reached at (877) 542-7233 or www.safe2tell.org .  In addition to the phone number, students can use a Safe2Tell App on an iPhone or Android phone to make anonymous reports that will lead to immediate supports from the school district, law enforcement, and other community agencies.  Talk with your children about this resource, help them download the app if they have a phone, and reporting is always confidential.  Parents can also use it when concerned about another child.  It operates 24/7 and agencies are immediately notified upon submission.  It also can be used to report any incident involving students from concerns for their safety, possible threats, or criminal activity.

Thanks for taking the time to review this information.  Never hesitate to contact anyone on my team should we be able to help. 

Dan Snowberger