As recently as three weeks ago, the superintendent of Anoka-Hennepin School District, Dennis Carlson, was still denying that bullying or the school’s anti-LGBT environment had anything to do with the multiple student suicides that took place over the past few years. Now that the district has finally implemented a policy that will allow teachers to respect and affirm LGBT students, he seems to be singing a different tune. In a letter just published on the district’s webpage, Carlson reverses statements made in a 2010 voicemail, admitting that bullying is a serious problem that has had an impact on Anoka-Hennepin:
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.[…]
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.
The concession is refreshing, but perhaps too little too late. Though a better policy is now in place, the district still faces a lawsuit filed by students claiming officials did not appropriately intervene with bullying as well as a federal civil rights investigation. And the new policy isn’t going to instantly transform the district into a welcoming environment for LGBT students. Carlson seems to have figured out how to talk the talk, so now it is time for his leadership as superintendent to walk the walk.