Nine Suicides In One Year, But Not Our Fault Says School District

The Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota has seen nine student suicides over the past year. And how does the superintendent of the state’s largest school district respond?

Student Deaths Not Our Problem

“None of the suicides were connected to incidents of bullying,” declared Superintendent Dennis Carlson at a school board meeting on Monday, December 13.

As a teacher, as a parent, as a human being, I am outraged. Instead of showing sympathy, remorse, the desire to do a better job in the face of such enormous human tragedy, the district has taken every opportunity to silence the growing voices of concern and cover their own asses.

Shameful Behavior

This is shameful behavior.

From The Minnesota Independent, a look at what’s been going on in the district:

“We continue to correct inaccurate statements about students who have committed suicide over the past year,” Superintendent Dennis Carlson told district staff. “We know how difficult these deaths have been for our schools. Based on all the information we’ve been able to gather, none of the suicides were connected to incidents of bullying or harassment. In addition to family and friends, many of our employees were personally affected by these tragedies.”

Over the last 18 months, the district has been at the heart of the debate over LGBT-bullying. In late 2009, a high-profile investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights found that two teachers in the district conspired to harass a student they thought was gay. The teachers went on leave, and the district paid $25,000 to the student.

Then, in July, the suicide death of gay 15-year-old Anoka student Justin Aaberg sparked an uproar. Parents, teachers and students held a series of press events and gave testimonials before the school board where advocates said that as many of four students took their lives at least in part because of bullying.

Carlson said that these statements by students, staff and parents at school board meetings weren’t truthful based on data from the district’s student services department. 

“As we all try to heal from the pain of these deaths the continuation of inaccurate information is not helpful,” he said. “Once again we have no evidence that bullying played a role in any of our students deaths. In a few instances, people told the school board and district leaders that employees stood by while a student was bullied. These statements are also not true. We have no evidence of that occurring.”  (My bolds)

Denial In The Face Of Human Tragedy

As if it wasn’t cruel enough to turn a deaf ear to complaints of bullying in the past, the board also chose to ignore freshman student Jacob Tighe who testified on Monday that he was upset that the district called those statements “not true.”

Tighe was brave enough to speak up and say that bullying was a factor in his friend’s death and that even he has experienced anti-gay bullying — and he’s straight.

“Not only did some of these kids who committed suicide get bullied before they died, but one of them, who was a personal friend of mine, was even bullied even after she died. Kids said things like ‘she deserved to die,’” he told the board.

Apparently not even that stirred any concern in the board.

Status Quo More Important Than The Truth

At a board meeting last month, Bill Thurston, the father of an Anoka middle student, spoke up, “Publicly casting doubt on the number of suicides that were LGBT or bullying-related suggests that protecting the status quo is more important than protecting students.”

The board chair interrupted Thurston with, “You are out of line.”  The fact that the chair of the board called a parent out of line for speaking the truth during the public comment portion, only shows the chair’s inability to be willing to hear the truth.

Bullying The Most Serious Issue Of 2010

For many of us teachers, bullying has become the most serious issue that we have grappled with in 2010. Care2′s Steve Williams wrote here about the suicide of 15-year-old Billy Lucas in October, due to bullying, and we have had the sad task of writing about a number of other teenage deaths over the past twelve months, beginning with Phoebe Prince, in January.

Recognizing the urgency of dealing with its tragic consequences, Arne Duncan, U.S. Education Secretary, yesterday put out a memo to state leaders outlining key components of strong state bullying laws and practices.

“We need the commitment from everyone at the federal, state and local level to put an end to bullying,” Duncan said. “I hope that highlighting these best practices will help policymakers as they work to keep our children safe and learning.”

Is anyone in the Anoka-Hennepin School District reading this memo? Or do they still think it doesn’t apply to them?

But, for the parents in Anoka-Hennepin, here is some hope. The school board is elected by parents to keep schools safe for learning. Since they aren’t doing their job, you can sue your school district for failing to protect you. Here’s how:

“Bullied” – Amazing Documentary

 “Bullied” is an amazing film put together by the Southern Poverty Law Center, documenting the case of Jamie Nabozny who was injured by bullying, sued his school district, and was eventually awarded a settlement of nearly $1 million.

You Can Sue Your School District And Win!

Nabozny’s story is featured in a documentary film and teaching kit produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case that Made History,” and its accompanying materials have been distributed to schools nationwide.

You can watch the trailer for the documentary here:



Lorraine Andersen
Lorraine A4 years ago

thanks for sharing

Beverly Z.
Beverly Z.4 years ago

B.Z. = I added along comment and it has disappearedWhy ask for comments if you don't want them?

James Campbell
James Campbell4 years ago

As a specialist in child mental health who has helped to pick up the pieces left by the victimisation of children in school I suggest the following 12 step programme for school administrators:

1. Admit you are a school administrator rather than an apologist for the unforgivable.

2. Renounce the tendency to lie when cornered by truth

3. Become familiar with the real world rather than the one you inhabit in your head

4. Admit that children and their safety are more important than your reputation

5. Place the defence of children ahead of a defence of the school

6. Attempt to listen more and talk less

7. Throw away your book of excuses

8. Make a list of your personal prejudices

9. Learn to distinguish between facts and fantasy

10. Analyze what facts you possess to justify your personal prejudices

11. Spend more time in the school, especially the playground and classroom

12. If all else fails, find another job.

Jennifer P.
Jennifer P4 years ago

It seems like bullying has gotten harsher since I was a kid. I was a nerd, and I was teased, but now - now there's facebook and texting and students can harass their classmates in bands alllllll the time now. It's horrible, and it needs to be stopped.

JMarie Wood
Joyce Wood4 years ago

This is an outrage. Let's see for about 9 months a year 5 days a week 8 hours a day our children are in school. That means we are trusting that while they are in school they will be safe from bullys and other forms of harm. These days we have to add drugs and guns to the list of possible harm. While our children are in school we have to accept that they are learning from teachers so they will be able to be functioning adults someday. This Superintendant only seems concerned that it wasn't his fault instead of investigating why it happened and finding ways to keep our children safe. He just dismissed the possibility that yes, there was bullying going on under his watch. He was more interested in covering his a**.

Sarah M.
Sarah M4 years ago

Makes me very sad to read this. I was bullied for my entire school life, which is a kids entire childhood. The reaction from the school was to make the problem go away by ignoring it, or giving the bully some temporary reward for saying sorry (literally just the word sorry, even if they spat it) so that they could claim they did what they could. Very few people in positions of authority care about bullying it seems.

Andrew T.
Andrew Thomson4 years ago

Video removed because account has been suspended due to multiple third party reports of copyright infringement?!

No due process, no appeal allowed apparently, if you are a School superintendent trying to silence a documentary about your failure to protect kids from death by bullying while in your care, where even your teachers are involved in bullying kids, all you have to do is claim copyright infringement to youtube and down goes that troublesome documentary.

Duane B.
.4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

john byrne
john byrne4 years ago

Denis are you really really sure or are you just dissing the prob.

Marc P.
Marc P4 years ago

This is the end result of criminalizing children for standing up for themselves.
Look closely at these (And SO MANY OTHER...) school administrators. It seems to me that if parents are TRULY concerned with protecting their children they would keep their kids as far away from these callous and unethical administrators as possible. I have seen so many stories recently of school administrators making horrific decisions with life-long consequences for the children whom they pass their edicts onto. At the same time I see little outrage from parents. I don't get it!