COON RAPIDS, MN – Dennis Carlson, the Superintendent of the Anoka-Hennepin School District, apologized last week to those who were offended by statements he made in 2010 concerning a series of student suicides which occurred during his tenure. Over a two year period, authorities reported the suicides of six students who attended the Anoka-Hennepin School District, the largest in Minnesota.
LGBT rights organizations, along with family members of the victims, drew a relationship between some of the suicides and episodes of bullying. In December 2010, Carlson said there was no evidence linking bullying to any of the suicides. On Feb. 21, Carlson clarified his comments in a statement posted on the district’s website. He said the remarks were “widely quoted, misquoted and stated out of context.” His statement reads in part:
”I made the original statement for two reasons. In trying to gain an understanding of the student suicides, we had dozens of conversations with staff from multiple buildings. We brought in professional help for grieving students and staff. During those conversations, we did not hear or receive evidence that bullying was the main reason for the suicide. We did hear of other causes – ongoing mental health issues, a break–up of a significant relationship, and other unique and difficult family issues. The second reason I made the statement was to encourage people to come forward if they did have evidence of bullying because we had heard the rumor that staff had witnessed it and done nothing. Four people origin-ally came forward – two ultimately would not speak to us and the other two did not have evidence of bullying in the suicides.”
Although no one can ever be absolutely certain of the specific event that leads to a student’s suicide, there can be no doubt that in many situations bullying is one of the contributing factors. Gay students are especially vulnerable to anti-gay bullying and so are other students that are unique in some way that leads to verbal attacks by students. These are often students with features or attributes that seem to make them a target. Students that have a visible disability, students that are overweight/underweight, very tall/small, gay or wearing non-conforming gender clothes, and students of color are often repeatedly targeted. I tell students as often as I can that they must speak up if we ever expect to end bullying in schools. We – the adults in school – know our role clearly is to foster an environment where students feel it’s safe to voice their concerns.
”I have learned a lot in this process, particularly from talking to some of the mothers of our students who died. If my December 2010 statement was perceived as dismissive or insensitive to victims of bullying or suicide, I deeply and sincerely apologize. I absolutely meant no disrespect to any of our students and the adults who care about them and love them.”