The Anoka-Hennepin School Board has a unique approach to the rather serious problem of bullying and suicide in their district: deny that it exists. Although there have been nine student suicides in the past year and significant media coverage of first-hand reports of bullying, the School Board has chosen to set aside testimony from parents and students and instead rely on their paperwork to “discover” that none of the bullied students that killed themselves were bullied.
Monday night’s meeting of the Anoka-Hennepin School Board was a contentious one as the issue of bullying and suicide in the district again came up. The state’s largest school district opened an investigation into the suicides of nine students over the past year — some by students who were allegedly bullied for their sexual orientation — and said that it found no evidence that any of the nine were bullied. Students and parents criticized the district for its statement — at times the conversation devolved to shouting — while district officials said there’s not much they can do if students and parents don’t report incidents to the schools.
No one – not one living person affiliated with these schools who has even the slightest smidgen of honesty and decency – is unaware of the fact that gay kids are being tormented in the Anoka-Hennepin School District. But the School Board seems determined not to know about it. (Minnesota Independent)
Over the last 18 months, the district has been at the heart of the debate over LGBT-bullying. In late 2009, a high-profile investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights found that two teachers in the district conspired to harass a student they thought was gay. The teachers went on leave, and the district paid $25,000 to the student.
Then, in July, the suicide death of gay 15-year-old Anoka student Justin Aaberg sparked an uproar. Parents, teachers and students held a series of press events and gave testimonials before the school board where advocates said that as many of four students took their lives at least in part because of bullying.
Carlson said that these statements by students, staff and parents at school board meetings weren’t truthful based on data from the district’s student services department.
“None of the suicides were connected to incidents of bullying,” said Supt. Dennis Carlson
“As we all try to heal from the pain of these deaths the continuation of inaccurate information is not helpful,” he said. “Once again we have no evidence that bullying played a role in any of our students 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.”
Nor are they likely to get “evidence.” Because a policy actively discourages students from reporting bullying based on sexual orientation and teachers from discussing it.
From 1995 until February 2009 (yes, last year), the School Board policy was to ban teachers – including health staff – from referring to homosexuality “as a normal, valid lifestyle.” In 2009, this policy was changed for the better:
“Teaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations. Anoka-Hennepin staff, in the course of their professional duties, shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student led discussions.”
However, this is still well understood by teachers to continue to mean “don’t talk about this.” Any mention that Michelangelo was homosexual, or Alan Turing, or Harvey Milk, for that matter, was not “neutral.” So rather than risk punishment, teachers are forced to pretend that gay people don’t exist.
But worse, teachers assumed that stepping to stop anti-gay bullying – or even saying that such bullying was bad – was not “neutral” position. And, as Focus on the Family and other anti-gay activist groups have made clear, any opposition to anti-gay bullying is labeled “the homosexual agenda.” Nor did the district’s anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies include any mention of sexual orientation.
All of the discussion about not tormenting gay kids was “best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations” like the Parents Action League where it can be augmented with such messages as gay people choose to be gay, are pedophiles, are rife with horrible diseases, and die 20 years before good wholesome real people. And besides, the blame for the suicides is “a continuous onslaught of pro-homosexual diversity”, anyway.
So bullying is rampant. And teachers were left with no message from the School Board that they should stop it and a more than subtle hint that they should not get involved.
Nor are students likely to report it themselves. As one teacher told the Independent “any mention of homosexuality is supposed to cause the teacher to make a referral to the counselor or school psychologist.” Rather than be protected, the kid is presumed to need mental health advice.
Finally in October of this year, after fiery denunciations of the Board from the parents of dead children, the Board revised their anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies to list protected classes, including sexual orientation. But they angrily refuse to change the “neutrality” policy that silences any reference to gay people at all.
And the Board has dug in its heels and is absolutely refusing to acknowledge that anti-gay bullying really exists or that it is part of the problem of suicide in their district. The bullied children didn’t fill our the right paperwork, you see, so therefore it didn’t happen.
And that is enough for the Anoka-Hennepin School Board.