The superintendent of Minnesota's largest school district is apologizing for comments he made dismissing a link between bullying and six student suicides.
Dennis Carlson published the statement publicly yesterday. (Read a copy of the letter below.)
Carlson wrote that, "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."
That stands in stark contrast to a 2010 voicemail Carlson sent to school district staff regarding the rash of suicides.
"Based on all of the information we have been able to gather none of the suicides were connected to incidents of bullying or harassment," he said then.
Carlson's new statement continues: "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."
Justin Aaberg told his mother he experienced bullying at Anoka-Hennepin because he was gay. He killed himself in 2010 at age 15.
"This apology, I mean, it's a nice idea, and I think it would be great if it was really honest, but it actually kind of hurts a little more," said Tammy Aaberg, Justin's mother. "It just feels like a forced apology to me."
She speculated the statement came in response to a lawsuit brought against the district by two civil rights groups. A district spokesman said there is no connection between the statement and the legal action.
Six Anoka Hennepin students killed themselves between November 2009 and October 2010. The events drew national attention to the district. Earlier this month, Anoka-Hennepin revised its policy requiring faculty to remain neutral in discussions of sexual orientation, following years of debate over whether the policy led to increased bullying.
The new policy requires teachers and other district staff to conduct discussions of all controversial issues in an "impartial, balanced and objective manner," and instructs them to "affirm the dignity and self-worth of all students."
Read Carlson's letter in full below. Use the tools to enlarge the text: