Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says bullying matters to him because he’s seen what it does to people.
Kleinschmidt will host a free screening Monday of the award-winning documentary “Bully” and will moderate a panel discussion on how to prevent bullying in the community. The screening will take place at 6 p.m. at East Chapel Hill High School.
Kleinschmidt says he saw bullying at West Mecklenburg High in Charlotte when he was a teacher in the ’90s. Another teacher who was very vocal about his dislike for homosexuality went on a tirade one day, telling his students that “no gay student was welcome in his classroom.”
“He was so blind that he didn’t know he had a gay student in his own classroom,” Kleinschmidt said. “It created a hostile environment for that student.”
Although Kleinschmidt didn’t tell the students that he was gay, he said he emphasized that his class was a safe and welcoming place for all his students.
“I remember being so grateful that I wasn’t the victim of that (as a kid),” he said. “Because I had a secret that they didn’t know.”
Kleinschmidt says he kept his sexual orientation a secret when he was in school to prevent from getting bullied. He said others, who were perceived to be gay or lesbian, were not as lucky as he was.
“The psychological impact it had on me was profound,” he said. “If I released my secret then I knew that it could happen to me.”
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools does not get many bullying complaints.
“I think we put a lot of things in place to prevent bullying,” said Nancy Kueffer, coordinator for compliance and behavior support. “We want to make sure the environment our children are in doesn’t allow that.”
Students can report bullying anonymously if they want. Administrators investigate and can respond with a range of measures. Repetitive, ongoing, targeted harassment gets the most attention, she said.
“The typical bully we used to hear about has gone away from our schools,” Kueffer said.
But one of the newest forms is “hi-tech bullying,” also known as cyber-bullying: sending threatening, racist or derogatory messages via email, social media, or other electronic device.
Cyber-bullying is a crime, punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor if the bully is 18 or older, class 2 if under 18.
Chapel Hill has gotten one report of cyber-bullying in the past four years. The last report was in 2010, an incident that took place in 2009, Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said.
“We would investigate it like any other crime,” Blue said. “But clearly any technology-related crimes provides unique challenges.”
One of the biggest challenges is identifying suspects who create anonymous profiles to bully others. Some have been known post messages or revealing photos of their victim to embarrass them.
Kleinschmidt said the city must be more creative in its approaches to the issue.
It’s important that we teach the kids, who bully, to understand the victims and who they are, he said.
The documentary directed by Less Hirsch, follows several middle- and high-school students who are different, awkward or for some other reason the targets of bullying.
Monday’s screening is supported by the Mayors Campaign Against Bullying, a national initiative. Panelists will include Kueffer, and Dana Griffin, associate professor and school counseling program coordinator at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education.