Students at an elite private school in New York City were given an assignment that has many parents upset — to write a personal suicide note.

Students at York Preparatory School, some as young as 14, were given an English class assignment to write their own personal goodbye letter after reading the best-selling book, "The Secret Life of Bees." the New York Post reported on June 12. In the book and movie, the character May Boatright commits suicide and leaves behind a note that her sister finds.

The assignment was to be written in first-person, as if students were the character, and students were to include rationale for their suicide.

"We were pretty stunned at the scope of the assignment," a father of a ninth-grade student at the school told the New York Post. "We thought this was such an outrageous assignment for a 14-year-old to get. We pay a lot of money to send our kids to the school."

According to the York Prep School website, tuition for the 2013-14 school year is $40,500 for grades 6-8 and $41,200 for grades 9-12.

Headmaster Ronald Stewart told The Huffington Post that the assignment had merit and that he had not received any complaints about the nature of the assignment.

"We’re going to have to knock off a lot of novels (from our curriculum) if we can’t talk about taboo subjects like suicide,” said Stewart. "Are (we) supposed to ignore (these topics) or try to talk about them honestly?"

This event was not the first time a teacher asked a class to write a suicide note. In December, a French middle school teacher gave his 13- and 14-year-old students the following prompt:

'You have just turned 18. You have decided to end your life. Your decision seems irrevocable. In a final impetus, you decide to give the reasons for your gesture. By creating your self-profile, you will describe all the disgust you feel toward yourself. Your text will retrace several events at the origin of this feeling.'

The teacher was officially notified of his suspension in December.

18 comments on this story

The Utah Department of Health reported preliminary data from 2012 puts the number of suicides at 540 for Utah residents, and the trend has continued through the first quarter of 2013.

According to state public health statistics, suicide was the leading cause of death for Utahns ages 1 to 44 in 2011. For teenagers in Utah, the number of suicide attempts totals about two a day among kids ages 10 to 17.

Editor's Note: The original version of this story posted on June 14, 2013, failed to properly attribute all source materials, which violates our editorial policies. The story was revised on Oct. 10, 2013, to link to original source material.

Email: crenouard@deseretnews.com