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Anoka-Hennepin denies link between bullying and suicides

Anoka-Hennepin report: Six student suicides not tied to bullying

  • Article by: JEREMY OLSON
  • Star Tribune
  • December 17, 2010 - 9:37 PM

Investigations into six teen suicides in the Anoka-Hennepin School District during the past year have found no links to bullying, district officials said Friday, despite the insistence of grieving parents and friends.

In a voice mail and written statement to staff earlier this month, Superintendent Dennis Carlson commended teachers and others for "standing firm against incidents of bullying behavior" and keeping students safe.

"As we all try to heal from the pain of these deaths, the continuation of inaccurate information is not helpful," Carlson said in his message. "Once again, we have no evidence that bullying played a role in any of our student deaths."

The statement contradicts even recent comments from people such as Tammy Aaberg, who believes bullying of her gay son contributed to his suicide earlier this year. Aaberg told the school board at its Nov. 22 meeting that the district needs tougher policies to discourage discrimination against gay students.

Just this Monday, freshman Jacob Tighe told the board he was upset with the suggestion that bullying played no role in the suicides. He insisted it was a cause in the death of one of his friends, and that while he is straight he has experienced anti-gay bullying because of the way he dresses.

In an interview Friday, Carlson said his statement was needed to counter misperceptions and rumors among parents and in the media.

His statement was not meant to deny that bullying occurs, he added, nor should it prevent people from coming forward with new information that might prove bullying as a cause.

Carlson added that new concerns brought to light by students this week are being investigated. He encouraged anyone with facts linking one of the deaths to bullying to come forward as well. "Silence does not stop bullying," he said.

Carlson also said any debate needs to distinguish between the district's policies on sexual orientation and its response to bullying.

"In terms of bullying, that is not a polarizing issue," he said. "Everyone in our community, whether you're extreme right or extreme left, wants to keep our kids safe."

Carlson commended his staff for helping students who appear depressed or who express thoughts of suicide. The state's largest school district currently confronts five or six cases a week of students with suicide ideation, said Barry Scanlan, district prevention coordinator.

District officials remain concerned that heightened attention will normalize suicide as an option for despondent teens.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744

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