Anoka-Hennepin is the largest school district in Minnesota, and the Justice Department is currently investigating there for civil rights violations following the suicides of nine students in the past two years. The Southern Poverty Law Center and The National Center for Lesbian Rights are suing the school district on behalf of students who have been victims of Anoka-Hennepin’s neutrality policy and the conspiracy of silence it perpetrates. Anoka-Hennepin is located in Michele Bachmann’s district—Bachmann, as part of her policy of always supporting the overdog, has opposed anti-bullying legislation in the past.
There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the students who are killing themselves are doing so because they are being mercilessly bullied, because school administrators are attempting to remain “neutral” by treating gender and sexual minorities as if they were inviting abuse and harassment rather than punish the people who are making their lives hell, and Superintendent of the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, Dennis Carlson, wants you to believe that he’s doing everything he can to stop the epidemic in his schools. And he can say, for certain, that of all the students who successfully took their own lives in his district, not a single one was due to bullying. Even though he is calling dozens of people that were close to the deceased liars.
Last December, Carlson sent a district-wide message to staff, stating:
“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. As we all try to heal from the pain of these deaths, the continuation of inaccurate information is not helpful.”
The School District held an investigation you see, nothing too formal, they just sat down amongst themselves and members of the community, and decided they didn’t have a bullying problem. Last July, anonymous members of the community formed the Parents Action League, with the express purpose of making certain the neutrality policy stays in place. They formed a group whose sole purpose was to make sure that the conditions that led young people who were queer or perceived to be queer to take their own lives did not change.
A few months after Carlson’s declaration, local Freshman Jacob Tighe spoke out at a school board meeting:
“Many of these kids who committed suicide were bullied before they died, and a good friend of mine who died was even bullied after she died, kids said things like ‘she deserved to die.’ You tell us to report things, but then when people come forward, like some have done in this very board room, you say what we say isn’t true. Why should kids come forward if you aren’t going to believe them?”
To which Carlson replied:
“In no way, do we see the victims of bullying or harassment as individuals to be blamed. What we need to do and we’ll continue to ask that of people who present to us that when you make serious allegations against this district we’re obligated to investigate.”
“When you make serious allegations”—yes, of course, stating the obvious, that several of the students were bullied, that they could not depend on school officials to protect them, that is making serious allegations against the district. That isn’t just, like, stating the obvious. So, if you’d like to blame anyone for any or all parts of this, I say we blame Dennis Carlson. For caring more about appeasing bigots and less about keeping children alive. For responding for cries for help with subtle threats about “serious allegations” and for seriously not even giving enough of a shit to hold a real investigation.
Sady Doyle wrote about this very same school district a few months ago – I’d like to leave you with a quote from her, about the district’s neutrality policy:
The one thing you cannot do, actually, is to be “neutral.” There is no “neutral,” as these things go. When it comes to being a bigot, and engaging in behavior that is more or less proven to kill people—or allowing that behavior to exist—you literally cannot take a neutral position. You can be right, or wrong.