Follow-up student suicide statement from Superintendent Dennis Carlson 2/21/12
For several months I have been contacted by people who have read or heard about the statement I made on
December 3, 2010 (See below) that in the six student suicides in the Anoka-Hennepin School District there was no
direct evidence that bullying played a part. It has been widely quoted, misquoted and stated out of context.
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 originally came forward – two ultimately would not speak to us and the other two did not have
evidence of bullying in the suicides.
What suicide prevention experts have repeatedly said is this, each suicide is a unique and complicated tragedy.
Hundreds of news articles have been written about Anoka-Hennepin, but only three or four have treated the topic of
suicide with the complexity that it deserves. Experts generally cite multiple causes of suicides, rather than just
bullying, and often, mental health related issues are present.
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. Once a report is made to an administrator, he or she takes
appropriate action and works with our families, the victims and the bullies to stop the behavior.
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
My daily commitment is always to protect and ensure the safety of each of our students, especially those who have
felt marginalized in the past. It is a fundamental understanding of educators that students cannot learn if they do not
feel safe, welcomed and affirmed in their school. Every Anoka-Hennepin school must provide that kind of safe
environment for ALL students who walk through our doors – each and every day.
Original Staff Voice Mail Message from December 3, 2010
This is Supt. Denny Carlson. We continue to correct inaccurate statements about students who have committed
suicide over the past year. We know how difficult these deaths have been for our schools. Based on all of the
information we have 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. As we all try
to heal from the pain of these deaths, the continuation of inaccurate information is not helpful. Once again, we have
no evidence that bullying played a role in any of our student 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. You are standing firm against incidents
of bullying behavior when you see it and we are most grateful. Students continue to tell us that bullying happens in
places where adults aren’t around. With that in mind, please continue to be vigilant and do what you can to ensure
all students feel safe and cared for.
Thank You for everything you do for our students and families.