A Fight to Acknowledge a Life; Mother's Efforts Help Alter Policy on Suicide Victims
Author(s): Maria Newman
Source: The New York Times.
(Feb. 24, 1998): News:
Document Type: Article
Marcia Eskin may never know why her son, Jonah, hanged himself after finishing his freshman year at West Orange High School in 1994. He did not leave a note. Reading book after book, Mrs. Eskin has searched for solace, for answers, and has found little of either.
She realized long ago that comprehending Jonah's death would be a long struggle. But she never expected that commemorating his life also would take years of effort. There was no picture of him in the yearbook. A plan by the band director to dedicate a concert to him was scaled back by the school district. And Mrs. Eskin's attempt to establish a music scholarship in his name was rejected.
But with quiet persistence, Mrs. Eskin was able to accomplish a more daunting task: she persuaded the district to pierce the wall of silence that schools across the nation have erected in response to youth suicide in the decade since four teen-agers took their lives together in Bergenfield, N.J., setting off a wave of concern about copycat suicides.
The West Orange School Board last month reversed its policy, which had prohibited any memorial for a student or staff member who committed suicide. The old policy stated that any memorial ''would tend to glorify the death,'' and possibly lead to copycat cases.
The new policy would allow a photo in a yearbook or a scholarship in the name of a student who had committed suicide. Jerry P. Tarnoff, who became Superintendent of the West Orange schools the year after Jonah died, said months of research and hearings have convinced the district that the old policy was wrong. ''Our board has said all deaths are tragic, no matter how people die,'' he said.
Many educators and suicide experts across the country say the new West Orange policy is the first they know of in the...