School Climate & Safety

Film, Cable Specials Put Spotlight on Bullying

By Dakarai I. Aarons — October 06, 2010 3 min read

Jamie Nabozny knows what it’s like to be bullied. As a gay teenager growing up in Ashland, Wis., he was constantly taunted and assaulted by his classmates—one bully beatdown landed him in the hospital for several days.

After years of torment, a suicide attempt, and moving away, Nabozny decided to fight back, suing the school administrators he said failed to take action and winning in 1996. The Ashland school district settled with him for $900,000. The landmark case went to the U.S. Court of Appeals and established for the first time that school districts had to protect students from harassment regardless of their sexual orientation.

His story is now the subject of a film, “Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case that Made History.” Narrated by Emmy-winning actress Jane Lynch of “Glee” fame (who is openly gay), the 38-minute documentary uses interviews with Nabozny and others, combined with re-enactments, to tell his story.

The documentary was produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center as part of its Teaching Tolerance series.

The film is available free of charge and 18,000 orders have already been taken, said Richard Cohen, the SPLC’s president, at the packed national premiere of the film last night in the District of Columbia’s Ronald Reagan building.

Check out “Bullied"s trailer:

Jamie Nabozny, who will turn 35 next week, said it is his hope that the film is shown in every school, especially those that would rather avoid the subject. Bullying is different from when he was in school in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. From what the kids who write him on Facebook and elsewhere tell him, it’s become inescapable.

“What’s changed is that they are harassed 24/7. We didn’t have Facebook or MySpace back then,” he told me last night after the premiere. “I could go home and escape it. They can’t.”

(Read more about the psychological effects of cyberbullying in this blog post from my colleague Ian Quillen on the Digital Education blog.)

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and several features are focused on this.

On Friday, CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360°" has a town-hall special on bullying airing at 10 p.m. EST. The effort is in partnership with People magazine and the Cartoon Network, which has its own “Stop Bullying: Speak Up” campaign. The town hall participants include TV personality Dr. Phil McGraw, who testified before Congress this summer about cracking down on cyberbullying and Kevin Jennings, the U.S. Education Department’s safe-schools chief. He worked with other government agencies to launch the first government summit on bullying this fall.

You can check out the channel’s full collection of stories and resources if you want to dig deeper.

On Tuesday’s edition of “American Morning,” CNN took a look at a student-led bullying program in the Western Heights school district in Oklahoma City.

Check out what the students there are doing and the pair of interviews: one with a student who was bullied, and one with a student who bullied others when she was in middle school.

The district’s proud papa, also known as Superintendent Joe Kitchens, told me the idea for the district’s “Stand for the Silent” campaign came from the students and has really made a difference. The bystanders take an active role in protecting students from being bullied by others.

“We are off to an excellent year and I attribute a lot of that to this engagement by our students,” he said. “I am really proud of them!”

The consequences of bullying, especially that of students who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender have come into sharper focus lately with several headline-grabbing suicides of gay teenagers.

Popular columnist and author Dan Savage started the “It Gets Better” video project last month on YouTube, inviting adults to post videos about their experiences as an encouragement for LBGT youth. More than 1 million people have viewed the” It Gets Better” video channel. He’s not the only celebrity getting in the mix. Ellen DeGeneres took a moment on her show last week to address bullying in a clip that has gone viral online.

And at Education Week, we know that this bullying in all its forms has been pressing on the minds of many teachers and school administrators, so we’ve put together a free Spotlight series on bullying. It has a collection of stories and commentaries on the subject filled with potential school-based solutions.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.