After Edits, “Bully” Receives Lower Rating from MPAA

A wider (and younger) audience will be allowed to see the documentary “Bully” in theaters thanks to a new edit of the film that received a “PG-13” rating. The film was initially rated “R” by the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) ratings board meaning anyone under 17-years-old must be accompanied by an adult, Reuters reports. The new rating lowers that to 13-years-old.

Lee Hirsch, director of the anti-bully film, cut three scenes because of language but left in a key scene for which he lobbied hard.

"I'm just glad that we held strong. I think this is a great resolution," Hirsch told Reuters about his and distributor The Weinstein Co.'s battle with the MPAA, which assigns films ratings based on language, sex, violence and other content.

The documentary follows five children and their families who have been impacted by bullying. The rating controversy stemmed from the use of a certain word that originally was heard six times in the film. Use of the word more than once results in an “R” rating. A compromise between Hirsch and the MPAA allowed one critical scene, containing three instances of the word, to remain while cutting three other instances.

Anti-Anti-Bulllying Bill May Make Comeback in Tennessee

A controversial anti-bullying bill that faltered in Tennessee’s General Assembly last year seems to be set for a comeback as lawmakers convene Tuesday.

The measure -- pushed by David Fowler, a former state senator and president of the Family Council of Tennessee (FACT) -- would alter the current anti-bullying laws in the state, effectively creating a loophole that would protect students from reprimand for expressing their “religious, philosophical, or political views” providing that that they do so without physically threatening another student and/or his or her property.

Additionally, the bill would disallow anti-bullying programs from using materials or training policies that “explicitly or implicitly promote a political agenda [and] make the characteristics of the victim the focus rather than the conduct of the person engaged in harassment, intimidation or bullying.”

In the December 2011 FACT newsletter, Fowler said that the purpose of the proposed legislation is to protect “the religious liberty and free speech rights of students who want to express their views on homosexuality.” In a recent Chattanooga Times Free Press article, he said that the intent of the bill was to “stop bullying” without creating “special classes of people who are more important than others.”

Both Fowler and the proposed legislation have come under fire from many gay rights activists, with several opponents of the bill saying that it would give students a “license to bully” gay teenagers.

“This kind of legislation can send a message that it’s OK to hate and we’ll even give you religious sanction for it,” said Chris Sanders of the Tennessee Equality Project. “As long as you say it for religious reasons, you’ve got backup.”

On a recent FACT radio broadcast, Fowler said “the purpose of bullying statutes is to prevent people or the property being harmed, not their mere sensibilities of being offended.”

According to a spokesman for state Sen. Jim Tracy (R), who sponsored the bill last year, members of the Tennessee Legislature are “reviewing the legislation,” and seeking to “narrow” the “very broad” bill in its current incarnation.

Me My Sister and the Bully

At age 12 we moved from a small town in Kansas to a suburb of Albany, .N.Y. Over the summer, I befriended another boy named Dean. On the first day of school, while at the bus stop in front of my house, a group of boys approached. When Dean saw them, he became visibly upset.

"What's wrong," I asked.

"That's Jeff and his gang." he said. "They're trouble."

It was not their bus stop. "This could not be good," I thought.

When they arrived, Jeff said something I couldn't make out, but I knew from his tone and body language that he wanted to pick a fight with Dean.

Having been raised to be chivalrous -- or some would say "stupid" -- I stepped between Dean and the gang and said something foolish that went something like "You will have to go through me."

They just looked at each other and laughed. I thought their laughter to be incredulous but at the same time praying my mother would look out the window and rescue me.

She didn't and I was contemplating, "Do I run toward the house or stay and get pummeled to death?"

Just before I turned to look at Dean, I was thinking, "At least I have my friend Dean."

But there was no Dean. He opted to do what I was just thinking, he ran!

I turned back around facing Jeff. He says to me, "What are you going to do now?"

Just as I was about to run, I heard a loud motherly voice. In that split second, I thought of my Mom -- but it wasn't her -- it was Dean's mom. He ran to get help.

"You leave now before I call the police," she hollered.

Jeff and his gang of thugs left, but they didn't forget.

A week later, I was standing in the back of a crowded bus. I felt a tap on my shoulder, I looked around and there Jeff stood with a hateful stare.

He slapped me across the face. I stood there and didn't move. His friends were standing around waiting for me to do something. I didn't. I was too scared.

They soon discovered I had a sister. She rode the same bus. It wasn’t long before they attacked her.  That’s when my personality changed forever. I became a fighter.

I got into a lot of fights that year protecting my sister. The gang of bullies made sure to attack when adults were not around.

I took a beating physically and emotionally until it dawned on me that I could start my own gang. If Jeff can bully in numbers, I can defend in numbers.

My friends Mike, Louie, and John soon had my back. It didn't take long for Jeff to figure out that I wasn't worth his trouble. You see -- my friends were bigger and smarter.

I fought off my bullies because I was resourceful. Most victims are not resourceful. The research shows that many teachers are not aware of the frequency of bullying in the school. Much of it has to do with the bully's covert approach to harming others coupled with the victim’s failure to report the incidents of bullying.

Studies show that most don't tell on their attackers for a number of reasons. In a survey of post-secondary students, most students believed that teachers are not helpful and may make the problem worse by drawing more attention to the bully without taking effective steps to prevent further abuse. The bully is now aggravated and the attacks occur more frequently and with greater intensity.

Other reasons given include fearing retaliation, feeling shame at not being able to stand up for themselves, fearing they would not be believed, not wanting to worry their parents, having no confidence that anything would change as a result, thinking their parents' or a teacher's advice would make the problem worse, fearing their teacher would tell the bully who told on him or her and thinking it was worse to be thought of as a snitch.

What should we expect from kids who are under neurological construction? Their frontal lobe -- the part of the brain that translates emotion into logic -- is not developed until age 25.

For my sister and I, we didnt want our parents to worry. It’s an interesting paradox the love between a parent and child. My parents were nurturers. They were protective -- not overly so -- but always hugging, asking questions, and in our business.

Here is the rub -- knowing the extent of their love also meant knowing the anguish and pain they would experience if they knew our pain. They always told us we could talk to them and share problems, but we didn't always do that. Not because we didn't trust them, but because we loved them, in our cognitively short-sighted way.

In hindsight, my adolescent male ego was bigger than my immature frontal lobe. I didn’t want the bullies and others to witness my Mom in action to save me and my sister. I trusted my Mom to fix things but I didn’t want the embarrassment of being labeled a "momma's boy."

Ironically, my selfless chivalry was in part driven by my selfish need to avoid humiliation. Sadly, this irony placed my sister in harm’s way. I am sure she wasn’t concerned about mommy coming to the rescue.  My emotions were not getting filtered through an objective lens to reach logical decisions. That's the nature of adolescence.

As I cull through the evidence-based approaches to combat bullying and look back on those dark days, I am convinced that the best approach is not zero tolerance, it's teaching the teachers to identify bullies coupled with programs designed specifically to assess and respond to their need to bully.

Otherwise, kids will continue to be traumatized. They will find their own way to deal with it.  Some are resourceful -- most aren't.

The effects can be long lasting.  Others simply try to take their own life -- and some succeed.

Schools Try to Stop Bullying Before It Starts


Mt Bethel Elementary Dess No Bully Zone
Prevention and intervention counselor Jeff Dess points to anti-bullying posters displayed at Mt. Bethel Elementary School.

Public school students and parents are seeing some changes this year in the way their schools handle bullying. That’s because of a law passed by the state Legislature last year that schools are now starting to put into practice.

In a four-part series, the Southern Education Desk and the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange are examining the new law and its impact on students, families and schools.

The state education department’s Garry McGiboney has been helping Georgia’s schools stop bullies since the early 1990s. But since the state Legislature passed the revamped bullying law last year, McGiboney says he’s seen a change.

“Our view has come from responding to questions and responding to requests for training, which has been unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my career as an educator,” McGiboney says. “There’s more attention inGeorgiaon bullying prevention right now than anything I’ve ever heard about.”

McGiboney has kept busy, training teachers, administrators -- even school bus drivers. Every adult who works in a school is now legally mandated to report bullying if he or she sees it. So educators want to make sure that they know how to spot the behavior -- and how they should respond when they do.

But McGiboney says there’s been a shift in the types of questions educators ask since the law was passed. At first, he got mainly operational questions about how to put the law into practice.

“But that has changed from questions about the law more to questions and an interest in bullying prevention and bullying intervention,” he says.

The reasoning is that it’s better to stop mean teasing and harassment before it builds enough to reach the legal standard for bullying.

So how do you stop bullying? How do you even recognize bullying? Three students at Mt.Bethel Elementary School in Marietta, just north of Atlanta, gave three different answers, each touching on elements of what researchers and educators accept as a formal definition of bullying.

– “A bully is probably like the meanest person. That’s what comes to my mind, like someone pushing someone.”

– “Like when they push you or shove you. Bullying is like, when something is unfair and one-sided, it happens when people are usually upset about something and they go after you and they take it all out on people.”

– “I’ve seen someone getting bullied, but I told a teacher.”

Jeff Dess’ job is to help schools make sure students like these know the best answer to those questions. Dess runs a prevention and intervention program in Cobb County that experts point to as a model for bullying prevention done right.

Dess has come to Mt. Bethel to work with the school’s “bullying committee.” It’s a group of teachers and administrators -- led by guidance counselor Kellie Oakes – charged with developing the school’s bullying prevention strategies.

School has just let out for the day, and as she and Dess wait for the teachers on the committee to assemble, Oakes explains that they have volunteered for the job. It’s not a huge commitment, she says, but it does require the staff to commit to something extra. She pages the main office to ask for them to make an announcement reminding staff about the meeting.

“Bully them to come!” Dess jokes.

When it convenes, the committee launches into a discussion of how best to integrate their prevention strategies into the classroom. Dess throws out a number of options:

– Should they repeat last year’s contest, which challenged each classroom to create a poster illustrating positive behaviors?

– Should they keep last year’s winning poster and hold a different activity this year in which students in each grade illustrate character words like caring, kindness and empathy?

– Or, should they follow the lead of another school and have fifth graders produce videos demonstrating the difference between tattling on someone and telling an adult about behavior that could hurt someone?

They also go over a survey that the counselors plan to give to the school’s older students. Dess explains one change this year that will, for the first time, let the school track instances of bullying over time.

Dess reads the new question aloud: “I was bullied in the past 30 days in the following ways: physical -- pushing shoving tripping hitting; verbal -- hurtful teasing insults making threats; cyber -- computer or texts; left out or ignored on purpose. And their choices are not at all, 1-3, 4-5.”

“This will give you a direct indicator of whether bullying is going up or down and in which areas it’s going up or down,” Dess tells the committee.

Peggy Haag teaches second grade at Mt Bethel and is a volunteer on the bullying committee. She says that even before the law, prevention work has helped the students learn to check themselves against bullying.

“I think children are more aware of the fact that that’s called bullying and that ‘I better be careful of what I do and that there are consequences for it,’” Haag says.

The results of a survey that theMt.Bethel counselors gave to students last year seem to bear that out -- but also suggest challenges. Around 85 percent of last year’s third through fifth graders said they would report bullying if they saw it. But if they saw someone being ganged up on by a group, the number of students who said they’d report it dropped to 68 percent.

Oakes says there was some nervousness at the school when they began to implement the full documentation required by the new law. It seemed overwhelming.

“It was such a grey area, really,” Oakes says. “We were like, ‘what about this?’ Teachers are going to feel like they have to write down if somebody looked at somebody. We were afraid that people were going to be feeling like they had to fill them out all the time.”

But Oakes says the paperwork has been manageable. She also says the law has helped change the way she communicates with parents, for the better.

“Before, maybe we would have just talked to a kid about an incident, kind of kept it in mind, but we weren’t maybe contacting the parent every time,” Oakes says. “But now -- I had a couple yesterday, where I just wrote it up -- ‘you know, it’s not bullying yet but we have to keep an eye on it.’ And both parents were right on top of it. It prepares them too, so they’re not so surprised.”

But the process of spreading bullying prevention efforts around a school does take a lot of work. In an ideal world, Dess says that he would take a full day and a half to train teachers and staff on bullying prevention strategies.

But in the real world, Dess says he’s lucky if he can get 45 minutes of teachers’ time in a faculty meeting.

And then there’s the question of funding. Federal funding that has supported Dess’ program ran out this month, and Dess and the program’s other administrators aren’t sure if they’ll be able to find the money to fill the gap.

Read more about the work Jeff Dess and other prevention and intervention counselors are doing to stop bullying here.

Schools Implement New Bully Law


No Bullying Allowed! Photo courtesy of Working Word via Flickr

In a four-part series, the Southern Education Desk and the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange are examining the new law and its impact on students, families and schools.

After 11-year-old Jaheem Harrera committed suicide in 2009, some of state Rep. Mike Jacob’s constituents in DeKalb County, Ga., in suburban Atlanta, asked him to take a look at the state’s existing rules against bullying in schools.

He did, and as he told an audience at a fundraiser for the group Georgia Equality last year, he didn’t like what he found.

“It was so inadequate, in fact, that the Jaheem Harrera situation was not even covered by the existing law,” Jacobs said. “It only applied to grades six through 12.”

So Jacobs proposed making the state’s anti-bullying measures apply to elementary schools too. The law that the Legislature passed also expands the definition of bullying beyond physical harassment only. It requires schools to notify parents of both bully and the victim whenever bullying happens. And schools must now remove students caught bullying three times and send them to an alternative school.

“And if they don’t do that, they will lose state funding,” Jacobs said. “So there are significant consequences to local school districts not enforcing the new anti-bullying law.”

Forty-seven states have now passed legislation to combat bullying, and the watchdog site Bully Police now ranks Georgia among states with the most muscle behind their policies.

The state education department developed a new model policy against bullying at the end of last year. School districts were given until the start of this school year to update their own policies and put the law into action.

Linda Horne, who’s responsible for helping schools implement the law in Houston County, in south central Georgia, says the district convened a committee of school staff members to facilitate the process. Then they fanned out to their schools, helping other teachers and administrators understand what the law means.

“We talked about bullying being severe, persistent, [and] pervasive,” Horne says. “So that it creates an intimidating or threatening educational environment; so that it causes another person either physical harm or bodily harm or that the person perceives that it could cause that.”

Knowing the exact definition of bullying is important, since the new law requires every adult employed by a school system to report bullying if they see it.

“The enforcement of bullying policy can lead to some really thorny problems,” says Bill Nigut of the Georgia Anti-Defamation League.

Nigut lobbied for the passage of the revamped bullying law for two years. He says the legislation fixes some big problems with the old law. But when you drill down to the school level, he says, even strong bullying laws raise difficult questions.

“A great example -- the new law does have protections for online bullying. But one of the questions that is being grappled with in school systems around the country is to what extent do schools have responsibility for enforcing bullying from one personal computer to another?” Nigut says. “That’s unsettled law at this point.”

Some districts are also beginning to use more sophisticated definitions of bullying than the law requires, Nigut says. His organization, for example, is urging districts to classify different types of bullying based on the motivation of the bully and who the targets are -- like singling out bullying based on religious belief or sexual orientation.

More broadly, Linda Horne of Houston County says the country is in the midst of a cultural shift away from a time when bullying behavior was seen as just another part of growing up.

“For many years we looked at bullying as being what many people would say -- well they’re just being boys being boys or girls being girls,” Horne says. “And I think that over the years, we’ve begun to see, you know we need to take a look at this.”

And that’s led to a new level of scrutiny. The federal Department of Education hosted a conference at the end of September on stopping bullying in conjunction with seven other federal agencies and a slew of national non-profits. The Anti-Defamation League’s Bill Nigut says the attention signals that stopping bullying is an idea whose time has come.

“When you have any number of federal agencies now deeply involved in fighting school bullying, it tells us clearly that this is now deadly serious business,” Nigut says.

But increased attention raises more unanswered questions. Elizabeth Jaffe of Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School says one involves what happens when students’ free speech rights collide with other students’ right not to be bullied.

Jaffe notes that existing case law allows schools to limit students’ speech to protect the safe environment of the school.

“However, with the litigiousness of our society, I think we’re going to see more and more lawsuits about incidents that occur,” Jaffe says. “For me the question goes back to prevention.”

So the question becomes not just how to respond to and punish bullying when it happens, but how to prevent it from happening at all.

It may take some time to tell whether the new rules in Georgia are actually cutting down on bullying -- in general, reports of bullying spike as schools begin to track it and as students and parents become more aware.

But lawmakers, advocates and schools are hoping that in time, the changes will lead to more peaceful, respectful schools -- that in turn promote more learning.

Photo credit: Working Word/Flickr

Q & A With the Anti-Bully Coach and a Primer for Wednesday’s Webinar

On Aug. 24, 2011 at 2 p.m. ET, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention will hold a one and a half hour long bullying webinar.

During the event, three panelists will discuss important issues related to bullying, including how it differs from other forms of aggression, the roles that children play and the best practices for intervening in bullying situations. Attendees will have an opportunity to ask questions as well.

The panelists will be:

  • Stan Davis, a certified social worker and guidance counselor for the Youth Voice Project;
  • Susan P. Limber, PhD, a professor at the Institute on Family & Neighborhood Life at Clemson University;
  • and Joel D. Haber, PhD, who is the founder of RespectU and is known as “The Anti-Bully Coach."

Melodee Hanes, the OJJDP Acting Deputy Administrator for Policy, will moderate the conversation. Those interested can download a PDF flier and register online for free.

JJIE emailed Haber to find out more about the webinar.

JJIE: Can you tell us what you do that relates to bullying and why you are a part of
this webinar?

Haber: I am a clinical psychologist and have been working in violence and bully
prevention for almost 20 years. I work with schools, am a consultant to the American Camp Association and help families and individuals reduce bullying problems they face.

JJIE: What kind of people and organizations would you like to see attend this
webinar? Is it for parents as well?

Haber: I think this webinar would be great for school personnel, educators of all
types (from camp personnel to sports leaders) and parents. We also think
nurses, social workers and school psychologists who are concerned about
youth and want to learn what they need to know about bully prevention from
experts in the field, will benefit from this webinar.

JJIEAny reason this webinar is being held at this time?

Haber: I believe the reason to do this seminar now was to bring expertise to those who are going to deal with bullying at the start of the school year. For many districts, school begins now.

JJIEHow big of a problem is bullying for children and youth today? Is it
getting better? Worse?

Haber: Bullying is a huge problem for youth because it can interfere with learning and social connectedness in school. We've also seen the effects of severe bullying and the devastating impact it can have on youth who have taken their own lives. Our efforts to reduce bullying are making a difference in a positive direction, but much more has to be done to reduce the devastation that bullying can cause.

JJIE: Do you believe bullying can be prevented?

Haber: I believe a comprehensive approach to bullying can make a huge difference to prevent and/or reduce a bully problem. Comprehensive approaches ensure that all school personnel are trained to find bullying and deal with it. And that the students are given skills to report bullying to adults, intervene when students need help and promote a culture that reduces bullying problems over time.

Do you think bullying can lead to a life of crime?

Haber: I have seen kids who chronically bully others have increased risk-taking and criminal activity. However, many kids who are stopped in their bullying and learn more successful ways to deal with people can turn their lives around. One reason anti-bully efforts are critical for youth is to help them understand the consequences and long-term effects of this negative behavior.

JJIE: Have you seen effects of anti-bullying programs being cut back due to U.S.
federal budget issues? 

Haber: There is no question that cuts in funding will be a challenge to the mandates of states to create safety in our schools. I have seen attempts by schools to find creative ways to get funding and build on foundations of anti-bully programs. I think with this funding challenge will see a successful dialogue around alternative sources of funding if federal funding continues to be less available. I may also add that the Department of Education is working hard to make this type of webinar available for all those interested in learning the best practices of how to reduce bullying, and continue to host conferences on bullying to ensure the safety of children.

JJIE: What is one thing that every parent and person involved with youth should
know about bullying?

Haber: Everyone who gets involved in bully prevention can make a difference and help reduce the problem. Every adult needs awareness and the skills to help children feel safe both emotionally and physically. Our youth look to us as role-models and we have to show them that bullying is unacceptable. Let's set the bar here.

JJIE: Anything else you'd like to add?

Haber: Yes, that youth leadership and involvement is a critical element of bully
prevention. Please note that anything I shared with you today is my personal opinion.

JJIE has resources for bullying and cyberbullying.

Florida Bully Law Falls Short

A Florida law praised nationally as a landmark step against bullying is falling far short in its most basic of goals: To get schools to report bullying incidents.

The Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act does a lot more than simply encourage schools to report bullying. It also requires local school districts to adopt policies against both in-person bullying and cyber-bullying, or else to risk the loss of state funding.

But data from the Florida Department of Education shows that schools recorded barely 6,000 incidents of bullying last year — far fewer than experts say are likely to have occurred among the state’s 2.6 million students.

That’s a tiny fraction of the number of incidents likely to have occurred. According to the U.S. Department of Education, some 13 million are bullied annually in the nation. And just this week a large-scale survey in Minnesota found that half of all public school students surveyed reported having been bullied, and that the number of students bullied there regularly is likely to be around 100,000. Minnesota has less than one-third the population of Florida.

Debbie Johnston, a teacher whose 15-year-old son killed himself in 2005 after suffering at the hands of bullies, led the push for the 2008 legislation in Florida. But she told The Miami Herald on Monday that she was disappointed at the lack of rigor with which school administrators are following the law: “When you look at a school and you see they’re not reporting anything, then we know they’re failing. Teachers have a moral and legal obligation to know what is going on in their schools.”


When does a Human Rights Commission oppose cyber-bullying education?

Is the rush by politicians to get tough on cyber-bullying becoming an overly crowded bandwagon?

That could be the case in New York City, where the city’s Human Rights Commission came out yesterday against a City Council member’s proposal to mandate education on cyber-bullying.

"To be effective in reaching the targets of our educational programs, the commission must be able to adapt quickly," a Human Rights Commission official was quoted as telling a City Council hearing. "That flexibility would be hampered by this proposed legislation."

It’s not that the commission opposes efforts to educate kids about the problem, its chairwoman said in a statement. Indeed, the commission has its own set of training sessions on cyber-bulling.

"The commission opposes any form of bullying and looks forward to working with the City Council to formulate effective legislation that is inclusive of all types of bias-related harassment," said the statement, which was reported by DNAinfo, a local news site in Manhattan.

It doesn’t sound as if the commission’s objections will slow the legislation though. Most council members already support the bill and the sponsor says he expects the commission to fall in line.

Read more: