Anoka-Hennepin Head Refines Statement On Suicides

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The superintendent of Minnesota’s largest school district acknowledged this week that bullying can be a factor in student suicides, but stopped short of saying it directly led to any of six student deaths in his district.

Anoka-Hennepin Schools Superintendent Dennis Carlson made the comments in a statement dated Tuesday and posted on the district’s website Thursday. In it, he clarified the reasons behind a statement he made about the suicides more than a year ago, and apologized to those who felt his prior statement was insensitive.

“I absolutely meant no disrespect to any of our students and the adults who care about them and love them,” he wrote.

Carlson issued his December 2010 statement to staff after six students in the district committed suicide in less than two years. Family members and gay advocacy groups have said some were bullied. At that time, Carlson said there was no evidence bullying played a role in any of the deaths.

His new statement said suicides can have multiple causes, including bullying, mental health problems, or other issues.

“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,” Carlson wrote.

Carlson said he made his original statement because when professionals talked with students and staff about the suicides, they learned the victims were struggling with many issues, but there was no evidence bullying led directly to any of the suicides.

He said he also wanted to encourage people to come forward if they had evidence of bullying, because there was a rumor circulating that staff had witnessed bullying and done nothing about it. He said four people did come forward, but two would not speak to the district and two had no evidence.

The school district has been in the media spotlight since the suicides, and over a policy that required teachers to be neutral in discussions about sexual orientation. That policy, which is the subject of two lawsuits alleging it prevented teachers from taking effective action against bullying, was recently replaced with one that requires teachers to foster a respectful learning environment for all students.

The lawsuits are in mediation and settlement talks are ongoing.

Julie Blaha, the teachers’ union president for Anoka-Hennepin, appreciated the superintendent’s statement.

“I think the sentiment is genuine, and if this is part of moving forward on these issues then that’s a good thing,” Blaha said.

But one former student who was the victim of bullying said the apology falls short. Justin Anderson, a 2010 graduate of Blaine High School, said he first shared his story about being bullied at a school board meeting in 2010 — and when Carlson’s original statement came out shortly afterward, he felt like officials thought he and others were lying.

“He is not saying that he believes the students in the district were bullied, he is just saying that bullying can be a factor,” Anderson said. “Only time will tell if he’s actually sincere about what he wrote, but to me it seems like it all falls a tiny bit flat of an actual apology.”

A district spokesman said Friday that Carlson decided not to conduct media interviews about the statement and feels it stands for itself.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • ...yeah

    Oh Kevin. You never miss a day to spread your hate do you? I see your comments on EVERY post dealing with the poor, race or sexual orientation.

    I’m sure your office job allots time for you to do this instead of work and doesn’t mind the fact that you’re a bigot.

    • Kevin

      Im a Govt worker…I have all the time in the world………

  • Kevin

    Stop kissing their arse! Its all over! The giltter tossers will now sue you for showing weakness….They dont want to be bullied….move to California…..

    • Scott Rose

      The victims named in the SPLC lawsuit of course still deserve the demanded compensatory and punitive damages. While these way-overdue steps from the school administration are not unwelcome, the victims deserve the compensation and the system will be the better for having the deterrent effects of the punitive damages applied to it.

  • java

    Kevin = unemployed and nothing better to but hate.

    • Tom

      @ Java

      That is what conservatives do! The preach personal responsibility but yet blame others mainly liberals, gays, etc for all their problems!

  • Porky

    mom g…you little oinker. Put the gerbal back in the cage. Wouldn’t you rather woof down a big box of chocolate!! Hmmm????

  • JGE

    WCCO, it is time to switch to comments by Facebook log-in only. It cuts WAY down on people feeling as though they can say any hateful, nasty thing under th cover and annomity of a fake name.

    • Geri

      Stop the haters…..NOW!

    • JGE


    • Uncle Rico


  • Melissa Thompson

    It’s clear this “public” apology was made because he was told to “be sorry” not because he actually is. If he was he would called the parent’s “privately” and he wouldn’t have sent the angry voice following the Rolling Stone piece pitting teachers against kids. With that said he IS now on record admitting he had a roll and anyone reading it now knows the truth. This district WAS discriminating against LGBTQ kids,staff and families but that they got caught, and now are being forced to make changes as evidenced by the repeal of the SOCP. The look of defeat on the faces of the MFC/PAL reps said it all. So while we can all agree a truer, more genuine apology is warranted it’s not likely to be recieved, so the next best thing is to keep things moving forward on a positive note and being quick to address any and all backsliding. As a parent in this district and as a mother I extend my sincere apology to all the parents who’ve lost children, I pray for your families everday and to Tammy Aaberg I offer my uttmost respect and admiration for her ability to push through unimaginable pain and loss to advocate for other peoples kids and their safety after losing her own. Justin must be beaming with pride looking down on his “mama.”

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