NYC Private School Teacher’s Morbid Assignment: Write a Suicide Note

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht
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Students as young as 14 at New York City’s York Prep on the Upper West Side were given a strange writing assignment: compose a first-person suicide note.

Parents were reportedly horrified to learn that the new English teacher, Jessica Barrish, gave students this assignment. Kids were told to write from the perspective of May Boatwright, a character who commits suicide in Sue Monk Kidd’s 2002 novel “The Secret Life of Bees.”

The assignment asked: “How would you justify ending your life? What reasons would you give?”

“We were pretty stunned at the scope of the assignment,” the father of a ninth-grade student told the New York Post.

“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.”

Tuition at the 6th through 12th grade prep school is $41,200 a year.

Barrish, who gave the writing assignment in May, previously taught in public school for three years.

The school’s headmaster, Ronal Steward, told the Post that he didn’t hear any complaints from parents.

In June 2012 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that one in six high school students has seriously considered suicide. One in 12 actually attempt it.

A French teacher was suspended in 2012 for assigning suicide note writing to a class of teenagers.

This isn’t the only time Barrish appeared in the news. In May, The Post wrote about a $2 million lawsuit Barrish filed against an old college friend. The suit alleges Joseph Ari Chiesa snuck into her family’s East 86th Street apartment and tortured and killed her 3-year-old Siamese cat. The suit says Chiesa, “tortured, mutilated and murdered Jessica’s companion animal, Cassie, and laid waste to the apartment.”

Chiesa pleaded guilty to “aggravate animal cruelty” last October and served four months in prison.

Sources: NY Post, Daily Mail