Anoka-Hennepin Superintendent Dennis Carlson apologizes for previous comments on student suicides

Dennis Carlson, the superintendent of the Anoka-Hennepin school district, has just released a statement about the rash of student suicides that occurred from 2009 until 2011.

In it, Carlson acknowledges that bullying could have played a part in the deaths and that gay students are particularly vulnerable.

The statement stands in contrast to previous "not-our-fault" missives sent from the district.

Carlson wanted to readdress a statement he made in December 2010, when he staunchly disavowed any link between the suicides and bullying. Despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary, Carlson denied bullying could have had any impact on the deaths.

"The continuation of inaccurate information is not helpful," he said in a staff voicemail. "Once again, we have no evidence that bullying played a role in any of our student deaths."

The tone of the voicemail is almost shrill in comparison to the follow-up statement Carlson released this week:

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.

He goes on to explain that in the district's investigations into the cause of the deaths, bullying was brought up as a factor, but that four people who originally agreed to bring proof of it either refused to talk or couldn't substantiate their claims. He says the investigations instead revealed problems at home, mental-health issues, or the break-up of a relationship.

In regard to his original dismissal of bullying in 2010, Carlson writes:

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.

A spokesperson for the district told MPR that the reason for the statement was in response to the media quoting from the December 2010 voicemail.

Read the whole statement here.

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