School bullies beware: San Francisco won’t tolerate that behavior

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle

Documentary film director Lee Hirsch huddled in the darkness of San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre as hundreds of city middle and high school students watched his movie, “Bully,” Thursday morning.

As students alternately applauded, cheered and sniffled through tears as the film documented the devastating impact of bullying, Hirsch recorded the audience sounds on his phone, his face beaming.

“This is a film for the underdogs and boy are there are a lot of them,” Hirsch said.

About 2,800 city students were bused to see the film at four local movie theaters, a movie initially rated R because of language. The film also addresses the suicide of two children, including an 11-year-old boy who was bullied.

Marina Middle School eighth grader Pooja Singh, 13, cried during the movie as she watched a student tormented on a school bus as other children watched without helping.

Thousands of San Francisco students watch the movie "Bully" Thursday. (Liz Hafalia/The Chronicle)

“I felt like it was really inspirational,” she said after the credits rolled. “I feel like at our school we can work together and stop it.”

The film is being shown at schools across the country and inspiring thousands of students to form clubs or hold rallies to battle bullying.

The issue will also be highlighted at a Friday conference on bullying in San Francisco with Bay Area education and law enforcement officials as well as federal civil rights staff from the U.S. Department of Education.

In San Francisco, Superintendent Richard Carranza required all administrators, principals and assistant principals to see the film before the school year started.

On Thursday, he encouraged the hundreds of students in the Herbst Theatre to tell an adult if they are being bullied or see someone bullied — a teacher, librarian, custodian, teacher aide, counselor, parent or principal.
And since the film highlighted adults elsewhere who failed to help the bullied children, Carranza gave the students one more option.

“If nothing gets done, you email me, you call my office and we’ll get something done,” he said to loud applause.

For those who want to take him up on that, he’s at or 415-241-6121.