Anti-Bullying Summit Kicks Off in San Francisco

[Source: ABC News KGO, by Lyanne Melendez, September 13, 2012]


[Source: Mercury News, by Katy Murphy, September 17, 2012]

A two-day anti-bullying summit kicked off in San Francisco and organizers say the goal is to provide a safer environment in schools. ABC7 News anchor Cheryl Jennings moderated the event, where thousands of students have taken a pledge to stop bullying.

The San Francisco School District decided it was important to take some students out of class to show them a movie, so they bused about 3,000 middle and high school kids to four different theaters. The goal is to change the culture and make kids understand that bullying is not acceptable.

"I like learning, but I have trouble making friends," says one character in the film. Those words have been uttered by millions of kids around the nation. The students packed theaters to watch the 90-minute film called Bully. It's a wrenching documentary about the devastating and sometimes deadly consequences of bullying - especially when school personnel don't take it seriously. The movie's director, Lee Hirsch, has been showing it to students as part of a national campaign to end bullying. "We're hearing about it more. We're understanding about it more and people are feeling empowered to tell their stories," he said.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee admitted he was once on both sides of the fence. "At the same time, I think it was natural of me to turn around to see who I could find that was weaker than me, to let off some steam, and then realizing ... put myself in that person's position," he recalled.

The mayor and the superintendent of schools in San Francisco, Richard Carranza, pledged to create schools that are safe, but acknowledged bullying and harassment go beyond the school yard. "It's not the physical one-on-one bullying anymore. What you are seeing are incidences of cyber-bullying," he said.

The anti-bullying initiative continued in Oakland, where busloads of teenagers streamed into a movie theater in Oakland's Jack London Square, past their superintendent of schools and the director of the film they were about to see.

In the next two weeks, 14,000 Oakland middle and high school students will watch Bully with their classmates.

"I spent most of my childhood being bullied," Lee Hirsch, the director, told the young audience as he stood before the big screen. "I used to get hit so much that my arms were yellow from top to bottom ... I couldn't make it stop."

Then he made a request: "As you watch this movie, think about the ways in which you can make a difference."

Last week, the Oakland school board updated its anti-bullying policy; the screening is part of a broader effort to address bullying in the schools. A new law that took effect July 1 has forced California school districts throughout the state to revise their handling of bullying, harassment and discrimination complaints.

"Seth's Law" is named after Seth Walsh, a gay 13-year-old from Tehachapi in Kern County, who was harassed by classmates and later took his life. The law establishes a timeline for the investigation and resolution of such incidents and requires school personnel who witness acts of bullying to intervene. One of the administrators featured in Bully, Kim Lockwood, is shown repeatedly minimizing complaints of bullying from students and parents, even those which involved serious physical abuse.

"Our take on it is that it says administrators need quality training," said Wendi Caporicci, a former Oakland principal who is now with the American Federation of School Administrators. Caporicci said the national union supports such measures as Seth's Law.

By showing Bully to nearly all of Oakland's middle and high school students, Superintendent Tony Smith and other civic leaders aim to drive home the importance of the chronic problem - to teachers and administrators as well as to the students.

"We've got to stand up for our kids, and we've got to stand together," Smith said before the documentary began.

When the movie was over, students asked Hirsch when he had summoned the courage to stand up to bullying, and what had happened to the teen, Alex Libby, who was shown getting beaten up on the bus.

"What happened to the principal at Alex's school? Was she fired?" one student wanted to know.

"She did not get fired," Hirsch responded, which prompted gasps of disbelief in the audience.

In Santa Clara County, high school students have made bullying-prevention a priority. The Silicon Valley Interschool Council, which includes members from many of the county's 78 public high schools plus several private schools, is hoping that students themselves will take responsibility to stop bullying.

Participating students take a pledge not only to try to stop bullying, but also to seek help from adults if students can't handle a situation.

Fanae Clark, 14, who attends Oakland's McClymonds High School, said she plans to do the same. While she always knew that bullying hurt people, she said, she didn't empathize with its victims until she'd watched the documentary. "It makes you become a part of a person who's being bullied," she said.