The ground covered in the 2011 documentary "Bully" is familiar terrain in Pasco County, where just this week two high school students were arrested in connection with an attack on another student on a school bus.
Bullies seemingly always have been a part of the school landscape, but documentary director Lee Hirsch says people finally may be saying enough is enough.
The idea that bullying is "just kids being kids" or that victims need to toughen up no longer passes muster in his view.
"I think there's a big movement afoot so that perception changes," Hirsch said. "I think you are going to see massive change."
Hirsch shared extended clips from his film and fielded audience questions Tuesday night during an appearance at Saint Leo University.
"Bully," which was released Feb. 12 on Blue-Ray and DVD, tells the stories of victims of bullying, their families and the school officials who deal, often unsuccessfully, with the issue.
The topic hits home in Pasco County, where students are thought to have committed suicide or attempted suicide after being bullied.
Relatives and friends have said Kiefer Allan, 15, a Sunlake High School student, fatally shot himself in January 2011 after he was bullied on a school bus.
Four months later, Zachery Gray, 17, a Zephyrhills High School student, hanged himself after school bullies subjected him to chronic torment, his family said. Gray survived, but was brain damaged and paralyzed.
During the filming, a school district in Sioux City, Iowa, gave him what he called "amazing access," allowing him into schools and on buses. In one scene, a school administrator dismisses a parent's complaint about bullying on a school bus, saying the students on the bus "are just as good as gold."
Later, the film shows an attack on the bus. The attack was so violent that Hirsch felt compelled to show school officials what he had recorded.
Hirsch said one reason school officials sometimes deny the problem is that, much like emergency room doctors and nurses, they become numb to what is going on around them.
Another reason, Hirsch said, is that "our priorities have been askew," with school superintendents and principals being asked to focus so much on test results that the quality of the school experience for students gets short shrift.
"I think there's a movement afoot to shift that balance," Hirsch said. "People are understanding the value of teaching empathy and teaching social skills."
Parents can help their children who are victims of bullies by being strategic in their dealings with the school, he said. Parents should document in writing what has occurred and approach school officials calmly.
His film's website, http://thebullyproject.com, serves as one source for those strategies, with bully-combating toolkits that parents, students and educators can download.
"The thing we've seen that's extraordinary with our film," Hirsch said, "is people who see it don't just watch it, they become organizers."