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A 3-minute video suicide note posted on YouTube by a 16-year-old Louisville Male High School student who killed herself moments later left Jefferson County Public Schools officials scrambling Tuesday to try to protect other students from the ensuing social media frenzy.
The video was posted around 6 p.m. Monday, and by the next day, it was threatening to go viral in Louisville,watched and rewatched more than 10,000 times before it was taken down from YouTube around 4:30 p.m.
Worried district officials shut down district network access to Twitter and YouTube Tuesday morning after learning that students across the district where rapidly circulating the video, then restored access about four hours later, once they felt they had time to reach out to Male High students.
“The safety and security of our students is our No. 1 priority. Jefferson County Public Schools is doing everything possible to support students who are grieving at this time,” Mandy Simpson, a JCPS spokeswoman, said in a statement Tuesday. “We temporarily removed access to Twitter and YouTube this morning. This was an effort to ensure that students who are emotionally impacted could get the help they needed as we worked with officials to address the situation through the most appropriate and efficient channels.”
Male also brought in 20 grief counselors, in addition to the counseling staff at Male, to provide support to students throughout the day Tuesday.
However, the district shutdown didn’t prevent students from accessing those sites through their own cellphone service, and the video’s views continued to climb throughout the day.
Scott McLeod, founding director of the University Council for Educational Administration’s Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education, said Tuesday it doesn’t surprise him the district shut down access to the popular social media sites.
“Schools are responsible for having a safe and welcoming academic environment,” said McLeod, who is also an associate professor of educational leadership at the University of Kentucky. “It was likely a way for them to try to let things cool off and minimize the distractions until they could address it appropriately.”
But McLeod said he questions the effectiveness of shutting down access to the social media sites during school hours, especially if students are allowed to use their phones during school hours.
“Unless you take away their cell phones, they will find another way to access the information,” he said.
Jon Hile, whose daughter is a freshman at Male, said he believes the school missed an opportunity to discuss the situation with students.
“You can’t deny the fact in this age of social media that those kids saw that video,” he said. “I think it could have been handled better. Trying to ignore what happened isn’t going to help anyone. But the way I see it, the missed opportunity from JCPS means that it’s now an opportunity for parents to re-engage with their kids about this very serious issue.”
Simpson said JCPS has policies and resources in place to help schools deal with the death of a student or staff member.
“When a principal feels his or her students need extra support dealing with a tragedy, they contact our Guidance Services department,” she said. “Guidance Services provides the school with as many trained crisis managers as needed for as long as the principal feels they are needed. All of these individuals are specially trained JCPS counselors, psychologists, family resource coordinators and others.”
Simpson did not respond to questions about how the YouTube video affected the district’s response. The Courier-Journal generally does not name suicide victims.
Male High School principal David Mike sent a letter home to parents Tuesday afternoon, identifying the student by her name and grade level, saying she was “respected and well-liked by our staff and students.”
“It is with a heavy heart that I share with you the news of the untimely passing of one of our 11th grade students,” the letter states. “While we cannot share the specifics with you at this time, we ask that your thoughts be focused on helping her family and the community heal in the wake of this loss.”
Until last year, JCPS forbid students from using their phones, music players and computers while on school property or while attending a school-sponsored activity. Those caught violating the policy would either have their phone or device confiscated and returned only to their parents.
But the school board voted in September to allow students to use their cellphones during school hours at a handful of schools that had requested waivers, saying smartphones can be used as educational tools.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, suicide is the eighth-leading cause of death in the United States and the third-leading cause of death for those 15 to 24 years old.
Last year, there were 112 deaths ruled as suicide by the Jefferson County coroner’s office. Of that, three were ages 0-15; four were ages 16-20 and five were ages 21-24, according to Geneva Robinson, a suicide expert with Seven Counties Services.
According to NAMI, there are many behavioral indicators that can help parents or friends recognize the threat of suicide.
Since mental and substance-related disorders so frequently accompany suicidal behavior, many of the clues to look for are symptoms associated with such disorders as depression, bipolar disorder (manic depression), anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug use, disruptive behavior disorders, borderline personality disorder, and schizophrenia, the alliance states on its website.
Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-582-4232502-582-4232 or @tkonz on Twitter.
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Girl posts tragic farewell before death
April 18, 2014, 2:38 pm
Excerpt: A mother has urged people with suicidal thoughts to seek help after her 16-year-old daughter left a heartbreaking farewell video on Youtube before taking her own life.
Maddie Yates posted the video and shared it through her Twitter page in the lead up to her tragic death, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported.
“I know that I’m going to hurt everyone who loves me,” she said in the video.
“But I’ve been like this for so long, and there’s still a chance that the worst day might still be coming. And I just don’t see how this is a bad idea.”
Maddie explained that she had been prescribed Prozac and was being treated for depression.