Anoka’s cyber bullying problem

Recent teen suicides reveal the discrimination middle and high school students identifying as LGBT suffer.

Eric Best

The Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota has recently grieved the loss of another student to suicide, the sixth person in the area to commit suicide in under a year. According to the nonprofit Suicide Awareness Voices of

Education, there are on average about 25 to 30 teen suicides across the state each year, making Anoka account for a significant portion. A majority of these cases involved students in middle school or young adults on the way to college who suffered cyber bullying. Some were also targeted because they identified as LGBT.

Cyber bullying has become a national issue, specifically with LGBT students. Organizations such as the Trevor Project and the It Gets Better Campaign âÄî now over a year in the making âÄî have brought the issue national attention. The deeper impacts of cyber bullying occur when it is not reported or vocalized by its victims because it often takes place in a space without supervision from parents or school officials. When bullying takes place over social networking sites, the bullying is more public, but it can also be easier to identify and prove abuse has occurred.

Kathy Dowell, a professor at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, whose work focuses on child psychology, said bullying is emotionally damaging during a critical developmental stage of life. A 2010 survey conducted by the state departments of health and education found 13 percent of Minnesota sixth-, ninth- and 12th-graders are bullied regularly âÄî once a week or more. At these times in a childâÄôs life, bullying is often more damaging and can critically affect a studentâÄôs ability to function at school.

One student that committed suicide over the summer in Anoka was Justin Aaberg, 15, a LGBT student whose story was not officially addressed by lawmakers in the district. The Anoka school district in question, who is being sued by the Poverty Law Center for discriminating against LGBT students, has been ignored by the districtâÄôs Representative Michele Bachmann who deemed the problem of bullying LGBT students âÄúnot a federal issue.âÄù

Though every parent and school official should monitor children for signs and symptoms of depression, lawmakers are the ones who must decide if this is an issue that must be dealt with federally. Some members of Congress are not letting the issue be ignored âÄî openly gay Congressman Jared Polis introduced the Student Non-discrimination Act, which would guarantee protection of the rights of LGBT students who are bullied and discriminated against âÄî a bill that was introduced in the Senate by MinnesotaâÄôs own Sen. Al Franken.

School officials in Anoka with similar sentiments are trying to fight back by applying for a grant which will help them fund programs that focus on helping to educate students about suicide prevention, as well as spotting the signs of suicide. Because of such recent incidents, cyber bullying even became a main discussion point at this yearâÄôs annual fall teacher conference sponsored by Education Minnesota.

According to Representative Polis, âÄú[Teen suicide] becomes more apparent with each case that this is a problem that is not going away âÄî sometimes even teachers and administrators contribute to the problem.âÄù

It is sad that as a society we must endure the suicides of a number of youth in order to realize that suicide prevention, as well as discrimination in schools, must be addressed. However, it is not too late to see our future children live without bullying in the classroom or online, and to reduce the number of students we lose to suicide each year.

 

Eric Best welcomes comments at [email protected]