Anoka-Hennepin school district blasts Rolling Stone article [UPDATE]

Categories: GLBT
Thumbnail image for Rolling Stones Anoka Hennepin.jpg
Rolling Stone
The Anoka-Hennepin school district blasts back against Rolling Stone.
In response to an article in the most recent issue of Rolling Stone, officials in the Anoka-Hennepin school district issued a lengthy statement lambasting reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

"The article in Rolling Stone presents a grossly distorted portrayal of the Anoka-Hennepin School District, its schools and its communities," the statement begins.

Superintendent Dennis Carlson also sent a voicemail out to the district's staff calling the piece a "brutal and distorted attack."

The article examined the ongoing dispute over the suicides of nine students who attended schools in the district, and the role gay bullying may have played in the students' deaths. It also mentioned the lawsuit over the district's Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy, and the war between conservatives and gay rights advocates to change the policy.

Although other national outlets like the New York Times and Mother Jones also covered the suicides and controversy, the Rolling Stone piece seems to have exhumed national and international outrage (The UK's Daily Mail wrote about Erdely's story yesterday).

The district posted the statement to its website yesterday afternoon, arguing that the reporter didn't speak to enough teachers, used artwork that featured students who committed suicide in other states, and that they have effectively responded to the "suicide contagion:"

rollingstone.jpg
Rolling Stone
The artwork that appeared with "School of Hate."
Monday, February 6th, 2012

The article in Rolling Stone presents a grossly distorted portrayal of the Anoka-Hennepin School District, its schools and its communities. Two of the students noted in the article did not even live in Minnesota (Kylie Cowan was from Utah and Emily Nicole Trotter was from Missouri.)

The reporter could have chosen to interview countless teachers - including Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) advisors - who represent a wide spectrum of opinions. Either the reporter chose not to interview them, or, if she did speak with them, she chose not to include their voices in the story. Three or four highly critical individuals do not represent the many quality administrators and 2,700 highly professional teachers who care deeply about our students and work each day not only to educate them, but also to keep them safe.

Our schools have caring staff who support all students. That is not to say that the schools are perfect. We know that students have been bullied and that students have used inappropriate language. We take action when we get reports of bullying or students using harassing language and there are consequences. In some cases, students have been expelled for persistent bullying.

When a problem comes to our attention, we deal with it. Suicides in Anoka-Hennepin schools were rare until the 2009 -10 school year. In fact, there were no suicides of enrolled students in the three years leading up to 2009-10, when there were four. There was one in the summer of 2010, and two in 2010-11. (Rolling Stone reports nine suicides of district students; some were not enrolled in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.) There have been none this year. As soon as the second suicide occurred in fall of 2009, the district became very concerned and immediately brought in experts to provide awareness programs for students and staff with more in-depth training for specific key staff (counselors, social workers, nurses, etc.). The district also provided additional support staff to work with students at schools where the need was greatest. Concerned about the large number of students with emotional problems our staff were working with last spring, we hired a person to provide support for students and families over the summer when school staff are typically not available.

When we became aware that some teachers expressed confusion over whether or not they could intervene if they witnessed bullying of gay students, the School Board and superintendent went on record stating that staff are required to intervene in all instances of bullying or harassment. If they do not, they can be disciplined. We also provided training for staff. Most recently, the district contracted with CLIMB Theater to create a series of vignettes of typical bullying and harassment situations to show teachers how they can effectively address them. These were developed with input collected from all teachers at the beginning of the school year. CLIMB Theater actors and actresses presented these for all secondary teachers during our January staff development day. This was well received by staff.

We are also refining our procedures for documenting bullying in order to ensure consistency in following up on reports of bullying and to provide data to measure the effectiveness of our efforts.

The district is committed to ending all bullying and harassment and making our schools safe for every single student. We will continue to be vigilant and intervene with students who may be at risk of suicide.

Note: Two of the students highlighted in the magazine's artwork implied they were Anoka-Hennepin students, but in fact they were not. Kylie Cowan was from Utah and Emily Nicole Trotter was from Missouri.

More details on how we are addressing these issues are available on our website at: http://www.anoka.k12.mn.us/glbt and at: www.anoka.k12.mn.us/suicide.

It's true that Cowan and Trotter were not Anoka-Hennepin students, and the Rolling Stone artwork's caption reads: "An anti-suicide memorial poster." The poster actually came from a suicide prevention walk that was held in Blaine back in September 2011.

It's also true that students mentioned in the article were not enrolled at Anoka-Hennepin schools at the time of their death. Fifteen-year-old Justin Aaberg, for example, had recently transferred out of a district school because he was being bullied, according to his mother Tammy. She's long argued that does not absolve the district of responsibility.

Update: Contacted at her office in Philadelphia, Erdely rejects the idea that her piece was a distortion. She says she spoke with a "tremendous" number of teachers, students, and parents in the district, and had no agenda when she began her assignment.

"The district can say whatever they want about being a gay-friendly place but they still have this neutrality policy on the books," she says. "In order for this policy to change children had to suffer and children had to die. That's beyond sad."

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31 comments
AnnainEP
AnnainEP

I think that in too many schools for way too long have turned a blind eye to bullying. Attitudes toward homosexuality shouldn't matter at all. No matter what, school should be a be a safe place for students. Although the portrayal of the Anoka school district may not have been fair, I think that the increased emphasis against bullying at school is a positive.  I noticed that EMA also had a recent blog about bullying and a song you could buy where the proceeds went toward an anti-bullying organization.

Common Sense
Common Sense

Yeah, I hate it when someone tells the truth and I look like the racist, bigoted, homophobic piece of crap I really am.....How dare they!!!  HRRUMMPPHHH!

Karenjweb
Karenjweb

The Religious Right, (the current American nomenclature for zealots) and all religious zealots of any "Faith" throughout human history have been the continuing cause of more suffering and hate mongering, war and destruction in every culture. It has been the ultimate downfall of many a great nation. Have we learned nothing? The staff and parents of that district all have the blood of those kids on their hands, and it continues to this day. It is a testament to the saying "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing". Clearly, there are not enough "Good" people in that district or this would not be happening, and Michelle Bachmann would not be in office! This is why we have a SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE in this country, to keep this kind imposition of hate from gaining power in the government, and we should be staunchly defending that position in PUBLIC, STATE FUNDED SCHOOLS, no matter how loud the rants from the soccer moms who preach from ignorance and fear. Why this cowardly hate group, led by Michelle Bachmann and her minions, has been allowed to impose their ANTI-AMERICAN BELIEFS onto the largest school district in the State on Minnesota, thereby creating this much pain and injury for so many and get away with it for so many years without repercussion, is beyond me.  It is a clear indicator that the Religious Right and ALL of it's proponents everywhere have now reached the level of social destructors, they operate contrary to a civilized society, and they need to be stopped. Any vote for a republican candidate is a vote for this kind of abhorant behavior and policy. Whether it be in your school district, the state, or the nation. It's shameful, it's Anti-American, and it is the germ of the breakdown of "The Greatest Nation on Earth". Time to stand up and take away their power to use our institutions to preach hate.

gracie
gracie

This is another Columbine just waiting to happen.

responder
responder

It is very tragic what happened. I can't emphasize that enough. Bullying of any sort can not be tolerated.  It is not just a big issue in Anoka, but it is happening in ALL schools. It blows my mind that once again the teachers that are the only ones being brought up as not doing their jobs. Where are the parents, especially of the students who are the bullies? Shouldn't schools and families work together? Can you really put all the blame on the schools? 

It is very easy to imagine based on what the article says that a teacher would turn their head and ignore a child getting made fun of. Students are referred to offices when a student throws paper across the room. So it is absolutely ridiculous that teacher, in "fear losing their jobs", would ignore one student making fun of another student only based on the content of the bullying. This editor did not do her research and interview the great teachers that were there making a difference and show what they were really doing in the classroom to prevent bullying. Generalizations are what starts bullying in the first place and that is all this article did.

I do not in anyway defend bullying, but I would like to see people who give their 110 percent be recognized. There are teachers who work hard to keep children safe in this district by developing those unique relationships with students who are struggling.

Mesears12
Mesears12

And to think the they just voted for a Rubulican RELIGOUS leader for President.  Anti-gay, anti-health care, anti-womens rights.  PRO-Bullies,pro-pollution, pro-Rich take all while posing under a religious cloak they shall rule

MNfreethinker
MNfreethinker

This district, which has over 2700 teachers and 39,000 students is the largest in the state. They interviewed .005% of the faculty. Rolling Stone is strong left-leaning magazine and is now using a public school system as a pulpit to attack political adversaries. The bullying policy confirms that ALL types of bullying are not permissible. Suicide is a tragic event, and bullies are treated with harsh repercussions when they are caught, but there are other issues than just bullying in a youth's life when suicide becomes a viable option. Vilifying a school district does not solve the problem, it starts at the home.

Cp3o
Cp3o

Where is Soon? Is that a city in Minnesota?

Tim Martin
Tim Martin

Jesakaisnthere -I wasn't either, before I got to jr. & sr. high. No, no one forced me into anything, but as the saying goes (roughly), "If one person tells you you have a tail, it's safe to ignore them; if two people tell you you have a tail, it's a safe bet they're both in on the joke; if three people tell you you have a tail, you might want to take a look."Isn't that how the best advertising works? A simple message, repeated ad nauseum? Trust me, more than three people "told me I had a tail." So, of course, eventually I started wondering, and one thing led to another, so to speak, and here I am. Would I have done things differently if I'd had a more established sense of "who I am"? Probably. I might have stayed in the army. I might have a family of my own by now. I might, I might, I might- The difference (other than sexuality) is that I'm still here. There's no GOOD reason that Kevin (or any of the others, for that matter) shouldn't still be here as well. The sad thing is that even after all this, the people (loosest definition possible) who did/do the bullying DON'T see their responsibility in it; nor, it would appear, did/do a large number of board members and staff. Chances are that most of them will never find themselves in a parallel situation to drive the point home. I'm truly sorry for your (and everyone else's) senseless and needless loss.

Mesears12
Mesears12

I am so glad to hear this is going virile. It's time to show these small minded people for what they are bully's under the cloak of religion.

amiller92
amiller92

I just want to note the careful use of the present tense throughout the District's statement.

Jesakaisnthere
Jesakaisnthere

One of the guys in the poster is Kevin. He wasn't even gay....

sota767
sota767

Having attended Anoka High '96-'98 I have seen countless times where a systemic issue like bullying would be addressed by fingerpointing at one person and telling them to change, rather than try to address the underlying reason and adapt policy. Kari's story of 'just change in the nurse's office' is exactly the sort of "you're the problem, not everybody else" mentality I saw all the time.

My anecdote was my group of friends wore trenchcoats (oh little goth kids, those were the days) and then the Columbine shootings happened. So Anoka-Hennepin's solution? Ban trenchcoats. No discussion of why Columbine happened. No discussion about how a high school like Anoka could make you feel alienated, isolated, bullied, and constantly tried to strip away your individuality. Nope, just ban trenchcoats. Problem solved.

They also really seemed to try and ignore the two cross burnings that some AH students did against some other AH students. I think that was in 1996. The next year they hired the first black teacher in Anoka High School. Problem solved.

Former Anoka Student
Former Anoka Student

I attended Fred Moore and Anoka High School in the early 90s. It's worse than what the article states. Two kids committed suicide while I was in high school (I don't know if either was gay, but both were bullied) and my sibling attempted suicide by pills when in 7th grade, because he was bullied mercilessly at the very middle school profiled in the Rolling Stone article. This has been going on for decades in this community. Teachers WATCH and do nothing. It's a disgusting, vile place. I would urge any parent to seriously evaluate raising a child in this district. Shame on you, Anoka. Shame on you...

Tim Martin
Tim Martin

You can ignore the seriously damaging taunting and bullying going on right under your noses, but you can't take a magazine article exposing the policy that allowed, if not encouraged, it to not only continue but thrive?If there had been any human beings on the board to begin with, this policy would not have been enacted, let alone enforced.Say what you want about Rolling Stone, but this story existed before it received national attention.My sympathy is reserved for the students and families affected by this travesty, this "excuse" passed off as "policy." To those teachers who "tried to do something about it," your job is educating, first and foremost , correct? Did any of you try educating the board members who made the policy? Did you educate yourselves on what could be done beyond the boardroom? For the record, I do know how daunting it can be to try to get something like that changed, much less eliminated, and to be fair, I wasn't there or in any way involved. I wish I had been. Maybe if someone had flown off the handle, a calmer approach would have been comparatively easier to deal with, and more likely to have gained some traction.To any/all who still support the policy, the next time you feel like telling a teenager struggling with identity issues, don't glibly tell them to "Just be yourself," because when it comes right down to it- you don't really mean it.Just to be clear- I support the families and students (both here and anywhere else that holds a similar policy) affected by bullying of any kind. I may not be in school any more, but I remember what it was like.

former student
former student

they have had a bulling problem for more than 40 years I know I WENT THERE and some teacher whom sub have belittled kids in front of the entire class and when it happened the second time they still did not do anything to the teacher. The teachers that have retired from the old school have not changed with the times. they have had children pants pulled down and when another child tried to do it again and the child reacted he was sent to the room to cool down for  hitting the other child who tried to pants him again. The School district is to LARGE and needs to be split.

Kari Koehler
Kari Koehler

I'm sorry- but if you read this article and saw the special Anderson Cooper (yeah, I know...) did on bullying in the fall- this school was not handling the bullying properly. A kid who was taunted in the locker room and had the guts to complain about it- was told to change in the nurse's office, instead of adressing the bullying. People (the public, students, parents, etc) have lost a lot of faith in Anoka-Hennepin Schools and it's up to them to win back our trust.

Bob Alberti
Bob Alberti

Yeah, I'll believe the Rolling Stone article was too harsh when Anoka-Hennepin educational district personnel experience a tragic rash of suicides.

Mike W.
Mike W.

Notice that they do not dispute many of the underlying issues the article discussed, such as the blatant physical assaults perpetrated against the bullied students.  Instead they go after the reporter and tangential factors such as the poster.  Way to try and distract from your incompetence folks.  It won't work.

Guy
Guy

Rolling Stone is worthless except for its devotion to printing photos of Katy Perry's Boobs.

Do people still take them seriously? I read Rolling Stone in high school, but that was before the internet made discovering music much easier. I don't see the point of it anymore.

turk30
turk30

I have often times wondered if the kids who died at Columbine were bullies to the shooters or just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Tim Martin
Tim Martin

 Considering the circumstances, I was thinking it might be another name for the afterlife.

turk30
turk30

Rolling Stone makes mention of that in the article. 

Tracy
Tracy

I attended school in Anoka-Hennepin 11 my entire school life, and I will say that back in the 1970's and 1980's, bullying was accepted, and even condoned by the teachers.  I was  a victim of bullying, and the teachers and administrators did nothing.  My Mom even called the principal of the grade school to discuss the bullying that was taking place at my expense.  The principal told my Mom that "Every kid gets bullied", and the teachers already had their hands full... 

2lilmonstersMama
2lilmonstersMama

Question Bob did you go to any of the District 11 schools? I did and feel the article is on the money with the portrayal of the schools just amazed at some of the other bullying issues they left out. When I attended these schools race was the major factor. One boy I knew was beaten buy one of the "Good Old Boys" which was a several school wide group of your typical white racist idiots. 1997 Grad of District 11

Anon
Anon

 Let's go after the messenger before the message spreads. It worked for the Pharisees trying to suppress Christianity, did it not?

h.s.
h.s.

I think Stanley McCrystal takes the articles in Rolling Stone seriously now...

NotGuy
NotGuy

They have more in-depth coverage on issues than most newspapers. Have you read anything by Matt Taibbi?

The fact you dismiss them so quickly means you're either naive or hurt by what has been posted.

T Blackford
T Blackford

They take it more seriously than they take you.  ZING!

2lilmonstersMama
2lilmonstersMama

Growing up in this district I would have to say the article was spot on about District 11. I personally have seen students bullied right in front of a Principle and not one thing was done about it. That same Principle after my years of attending that school managed to become the father of not one but two sons charged with murder! Both of his sons are currently serving time in prison. This was the Principle who would rather use force and screaming to deal with kids and turn the other cheek when he thought that if he said something to "certain" student groups he would be putting himself in jeopardy. 

Guy
Guy

Yes, I have read Matt Taibbi. He's a hack trying to be Hunter Thompson, which is why he writes for Rolling Stone.

And what do you mean "dismiss them so quickly"? I'm dismissing them based on the last decade of their publication's history. They're basically Maxim with one left-leaning political article per issue, plus a couple pages of music reviews so they can keep calling themselves Rolling Stone. But face it, they haven't mattered in a long, long time (excluding the piece that got McChrystal fired, but that was McChrystal using Rolling Stone as a mouthpiece rather than Rolling Stone digging up a story).

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