Ohio school district has teens watch 'Bully' film

LISA CORNWELL Published:

CINCINNATI (AP) -- About 9,000 Cincinnati Public School students are seeing an anti-bullying documentary that stirred debate over its initial rating restricting children under 17 from seeing it without an adult.

The district intends to use the film, which has since been lowered to a PG-13 rating, as a teaching tool to help prevent bullying. The film, "Bully," follows five kids over a school year in an attempt to demonstrate the toll bullying takes on children and families.

"There is emotional content, and there has been crying by some students viewing the film," school district spokeswoman Janet Walsh said Monday. "Overall the reaction we have received has been extremely positive, and students have left the theater with a new or renewed commitment to taking a stand against bullying."

She said school counselors were alerted to the content, in case any students affected by the emotional content needed to follow up with them. But she said that has not been necessary so far.

Cincinnati students in grades eight through 11 started seeing the movie last week at a theater in northern Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, and viewing will continue through this week. They are required to have their parents' permission, Walsh said.

The Motion Picture Association of America, which oversees film ratings, initially gave the film an R, but last month rated it PG-13 for intense thematic material, disturbing content and some strong language -- all involving kids. The film's distributor said uses of an expletive were removed for the PG-13 rating, which warns that some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Hollywood celebrities including Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp threw their support behind an online campaign to remove the R rating for the documentary which has helped inspire a national project aimed at increasing education about bullying and preventing it.

The national project enables public schools to request funding for training teachers and for transportation and tickets for students to the film, the district said. Cincinnati school superintendent Mary Ronan said in a statement that the movie has the power to "make a real difference by engaging our community at all levels" and supporting the district's commitment to make its schools safe for every student.

A school district in northeast Ohio hopes to show the film to at least some of its students in the fall. Lakewood City Schools in suburban Cleveland is trying to arrange to show the film and bring its director there for a panel discussion on bullying.

"Bullying exists in every school, and it's not something we want to push under the table," said Christine Gordillo, a spokeswoman for the 6,000-student Lakewood district. "We want to prevent it."

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