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Carson Hoyt. Image: change.org

Student’s memorial should be in yearbook: education minister

By Brad Perry Mar 9, 2024 | 10:42 AM

WARNING: This story contains details which may be distressing to some.

New Brunswick’s education minister is weighing in on a school’s decision not to allow a memorial for a late student in their yearbook.

Carson Hoyt died by suicide on June 13, 2021, as he was completing his Grade 9 year at Hampton High School.

Hoyt would have graduated this year and his family wanted a memorial in the yearbook, like the school has done for other students who have died.

However, according to a petition started by his family, the school and the Anglophone South School District chose not to, citing suicide contagion as their reason.

“This decision has deeply hurt his family and friends who believe that Carson deserves to be remembered like every other student who has passed away,” said the Change.org petition, which has garnered more than 7,000 signatures since Wednesday.

“The manner of his death should not diminish his rights to be acknowledged alongside his peers.”

The petition calls on the school and the school district to reverse their decision and allow Hoyt’s memorial to appear in the yearbook.

In a late Friday afternoon statement, Education Minister Bill Hogan said it is important to bring mental health “out of the shadows and into the light.”

“I am strongly encouraging the Anglophone South School District and officials at Hampton High School to work with the Hoyt family to ensure their son, Carson, is included in the school yearbook,” wrote Hogan.

Hogan, a former educator and school principal, said while a lot of work has been put into efforts focused on increasing awareness and reducing shame and stigma, there is still more to be done.

“It is my hope that, with further discussions rooted firmly in empathy and compassion, a path forward for remembering Carson Hoyt at what would be his graduation ceremony will materialize,” he said.

District provides explanation of policy

The Anglophone South School District is defending its policy of not allowing memorial pages and dedications in school yearbooks.

In a statement Monday, the district said its policy is “not borne out of stigma or a desire to diminish the importance of any life, especially not due to the circumstances surrounding their death.”

“Instead, it is the result of extensive consultation with mental health professionals and adherence to current, best practices in suicide prevention.”

Research and expert guidance has shown that permanent memorials in the school environment, such as yearbook tributes, can have “serious unintended consequences for students grappling with their own mental health issues,” said the district.

“While previously, deaths may have been memorialized in yearbooks or in schools, our policies have evolved over time to reflect best practices in suicide prevention, and this is no longer the practice. We have been transitioning away from these types of permanent memorials and tributes for several years.

“We know that there is a perception in the public that the policy is based on stigma around suicide. However, many involved in petitioning the school are aware that the decision is actually based on best practices in suicide-prevention, and it is unclear to us why there is reluctance to heed the advice of experts, if there was a chance it could save a life.”

“If there is even a possibility that these types of memorials might be risk-enhancers for vulnerable students, which the research is demonstrating, then it is not a risk we can take.”

The district said it continues to work with the Hoyt family to find ways to honour Carson, such as other ways to include him in the yearbook and at graduation.

If you or someone you know are in need of help, you can call or text the national Suicide Crisis Helpline at 988.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Monday, March 11, to add a statement from the Anglophone South School District.