Obama Administration Takes on Bullying

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Director Lee Hirsch's documentary "Bully," follows five students and their families throughout the course of a school year, and aims to provide a variety of perspectives on the reality of bullying. Credit: The Weinstein Company

By Greg Clary, CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius spoke out against bullying Wednesday at a middle school in Washington during a premiere of the anti-bullying documentary, “Speak Up.”

The documentary, set to air Sunday on Cartoon Network, consists of interviews with children who say they were bullied in school and includes strategies on how to bring an end to bullying. Cartoon Network is owned by Turner Broadcasting, the parent company of CNN.

Sebelius told students gathered at Stuart-Hobson Middle School that bullying is simply unacceptable, “You shouldn’t ever have to go to class with an empty feeling in your stomach, trying to figure out what was going to happen in that class. You shouldn’t be afraid to eat in the cafeteria. You shouldn’t be afraid to speak up in class. That happens to too many kids too many days of the week,” Sebelius told the students.

Before part of the documentary was screened, students watched a taped message from President Barack Obama in which he said bully prevention is important to him both as the president and as a father.

“Bullying is not a rite of passage or a harmless part of growing up, it’s wrong, it’s destructive and we can all prevent it. I care about this issue deeply, not just as the president but as a dad,” Obama said in the message.

After the documentary screening, a panel consisting of bully prevention experts, the president of Cartoon Network and some victims of bullying discussed bully prevention. CNN Anchor Don Lemon moderated the discussion and to demonstrate how prevalent bullying is, he asked the students in the auditorium whether they had been victims of bullying; about half of them raised their hands.

While Secretary Sebelius admitted there’s only so much the federal government can do to prevent bullying, she did say its prevention is a basic human right.

“Every child in this country has a right to feel safe,” Sebelius said.

“Speak Up” will air Sunday at 5:30 p.m. on Cartoon Network with an encore presentation at 8 p.m.