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Carlotta Mohamed/QNS
JHS 189 Daniel Carter Beard School in Flushing.

After local elected officials and community leaders in Flushing expressed shock at the number of students experiencing suicidal thoughts at JHS 189Q Daniel Beard Carter School, the Department of Education (DOE) is taking action to address the crisis. 

During a legislative meeting on Feb. 7 at JHS 189Q (144-80 Barclay Ave., Flushing), Principal Magdalen Radovich and her staff members announced 60 students speaking of suicidal thoughts in the past year, according to a report

State Assemblyman Ron Kim, who attended the gathering with two dozen other elected officials and community leaders, had pushed for the DOE to jump on the matter promptly. 

According to Kim, the DOE is taking a multi-pronged and strategic approach, allocating immediate resources to help students while they’re in school.

“I am thankful that the New York City Department of Education has responded and acted swiftly for this scary situation at JHS 189,” Kim said in a statement. 

However, in a statement to QNS, the DOE claims that Radovich misstated the number of students who have had suicide ideations, saying, they’re “unable to share the exact number but it is far less than 60.”

According to the DOE, the regularly scheduled legislative breakfast at JHS 189Q was held to thank local elected officials for their support of the school, not to discuss any specific concerns around student mental health. 

“During the breakfast, the principal asked the community’s support for their Community School program, and the addition of a mental health and wellness center on their campus. Mental health of the students was part of a larger discussion and not the focus of the breakfast,” a DOE spokeswoman said. 

According to the DOE, unprecedented investments were already made at the school to ensure students and staff have social and emotional support, and training to identify and prevent risk.

“At JHS 189, the staff have been trained on self-harm prevention, and students have a social worker, school psychologist, a mental health consultant through ThriveNYC, and a Substance Abuse Prevention and Intervention Specialist,” a DOE spokeswoman said. 

“Staff have had trainings in both Making Educators Partners in Suicide Prevention and Kognito programs, both of which focus on mental health identifying and mental health concerns include suicide ideation,” the DOE added. “Guidance counselors attend Creating Suicide Safety in Schools and Crisis School trainings.”

JHS 189Q also offers students the opportunity to join several socio-emotional organizations. Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Program (SAVI), the National Alliance on Mental Illness (MANI), and Day 1 have conducted classroom lessons on mental health and building healthy relationships, the DOE said.

If a student reports suicidal ideations, the principal and parents/guardians are notified and appropriate referrals to provide intervention and supports are made. The school also conducts parent workshops that focus on the safety and wellness of their children.

Meanwhile, Kim said he believes that the suicide crisis stems from Flushing’s lack of affordable housing and skyrocketing commercial rents.

“The school staff and I both know that if these students are experiencing trauma outside of school, stemming from economic stress, poverty or an unstable home environment, we will continue to see a rise in depression and suicidal ideation in the future,” Kim said. “The long-term solution is clear: securing safe and affordable housing for all families. No child should be living in abject fear of going homeless every night.”

Meanwhile, John Choe, executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, sharing Kim’s sentiments, said Mayor Bill de Blasio needs to identify and address the root causes of the growing mental health crisis in local schools — the emotional toll resulting from the wholesale displacement of residents and small business owners who can no longer afford to live in the community, he said. 

“The city’s pending approval of the Special Flushing Waterfront District, which will produce 1,700 units of luxury condos and less than 90 units of affordable housing, is just the latest in an unending series of bad urban planning decisions resulting in gentrification and social upheaval in our neighborhood,” Choe said.

If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide, do not leave the person alone; remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt; call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273–8255; and take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

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