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Stop a Bully

PSRP Reporter
May/June 2012
Feature Story

Fed up bus drivers, new movie highlight the dangers of bullies run wild.

"ENOUGH IS ENOUGH" according to Houston school bus drivers who picketed outside their district headquarters in April, calling for the disciplining of bullies who harass other students and abuse the drivers.

"We have kids on our buses every week fighting," says Wretha Thomas, president of the Houston Educational Support Personnel. "We have bus drivers being disrespected every day." The reason drivers rallied and held a news conference, Thomas says, is that "we wanted the community to know what's going on in the school buses before somebody's kid gets killed."

Drivers even reported a case of gunfire. The bullies "are not afraid of anybody doing anything to them," says driver Velma Allen.

The rally yielded a meeting with school officials who promised to add bus attendants on the worst routes and training for drivers, Thomas says. The local union also sought AFT training on managing student behavior in school buses. Thomas says school workers need to know that they don't have to put up with bullying, and they are not alone.

To drive that point home, the Houston Educational Support Personnel, along with the Houston Federation of Teachers, are encouraging members to see the movie "Bully."

A film that 'needs to be seen'

"Bully," which Time magazine calls "as vivid as any horror film," opened in theaters nationwide in April. The documentary follows five young people who were bullied; two of them committed suicide. The movie features students from high schools in four states during the 2009-10 school year, tracing their lives in real time and in their own words, from school buses to suburban streets.

"This movie is devastating and compelling," AFT president Randi Weingarten says, "and it needs to be seen."

The AFT and the NEA co-sponsored an advance screening of the movie. Following the showing, Weingarten and NEA president Dennis Van Roekel led a discussion on practical solutions to stop bullying.

Weingarten said people can no longer dismiss it by saying things like "boys will be boys, kids will be kids." She also said that instead of blaming people, adults need to promote better behavior. The way to start is to speak out. Weingarten told her own story of coming out as a lesbian, and how teenagers thanked her for letting everyone know that "it's OK to be different."

AFT local affiliates nationwide, including those in Chicago, Dade County, Fla., and New York City have been holding screenings of "Bully." Other AFT locals, including the United Educators of San Francisco and United Teachers Los Angeles, are urging members to see the movie and share it.

PSRPs press for change

Union activists already are advocating for federal measures to curb bullying. Dozens of paraprofessionals and school-related personnel, often the first to witness shunning and other kinds of harassment, gathered in Washington, D.C., in March to attend the American Association of Classified School Employees' annual legislative conference. The PSRPs spent an afternoon urging federal lawmakers to support the Safe Schools Improvement Act (S. 506 and H.R. 1648), which would require school codes of conduct that prohibit bullying and harassment as well as provide training for school employees.

George Williams, head custodian at Lee Elementary School and president of the AFT-affiliated Madison County (Fla.) Education Association, says bullying would not have come to the forefront without national exposure such as the "Bully" documentary and federal legislation.

"We have children who are dealing with tremendous pressures every day," he says. "But with education about bullying, we can make a difference. We have to make a difference."