#BullyingPreventionMonth ended last week, but we educate ourselves on anti-bullying tactics every month of the year. Learn how bullying differs from harassment and many other important legal issues surrounding bullying in the state of California. Stand up against bullying every day, not just during the month of October.
It’s probably safe to say that everyone has been bullied at one time or another in their life. Whether it was in elementary school, high school or at your place of work, someone has pushed you around, berated you, stole your lunch money, made fun of you or called you names. Nationally, more than 13 million American children will be bullied, making it the most common form of violence young people experience. Well, as this October is Anti-Bullying Month and the 30th Anniversary of Back to the Future, the moon and stars have aligned perfectly and provided us with an opportunity to revisit Biff’s Bad Bullying Behavior.
Everyone remembers the movie Back to the Future, right? (How could you not??)
Quick synopsis- In attempt to evade the evil Libyan rebels seeking return of their plutonium from eccentric scientist Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown, who used the plutonium to power the flux capacitor in his time-traveling DeLorean instead of building them a bomb.
Marty McFly jumps into the Delorean and upon reaching a speed of 88 mph (in the Puente Hills mall parking lot), 1.21 jigawatts of power sends Marty and the car back in time to November 5, 1955- the date parents’ first met. Marty then meets his future parents in high school and accidentally becomes his mother’s romantic interest. In an ensuing caper of errors, Marty must repair the damage to history by causing his parents-to-be to fall in love, and with the help of Doc Brown and find a way to return to 1985.
While helping his to-be father, George McFly, try to woo his to be mother in 1955, Marty inadvertently witnesses several occasions of George being verbally and physically abused by the school bully, Biff Tannen. The most memorable of which is:
This scene, despite Crispin Glover’s adorably dorky demeanor, makes everyone cringe and sink down in their seats. And if you’re like me, it makes you want to jump up and give Biff a swift kick to the boys (if you know what I mean.) However, what is sad is that George takes the knocking on his head, slap and verbal abuse from Biff with a smile and even joins in the laughter when Biff’s friend makes fun of Marty’s “life preserver” jacket. So, would Biff face any repercussions for his bullying behavior in 2015?
Well, what is bullying anyway?
“Bullying” is defined as any severe or pervasive physical or verbal act or conduct, including communications made in writing or by means of an electronic act, and including one or more acts committed by a pupil or group of pupils, directed toward one or more pupils that has or can be reasonably predicted to have the effect of one or more of the following: (A) Placing a reasonable pupil or pupils in fear of harm to that pupil’s or those pupils’ person or property; (B) Causing a reasonable pupil to experience a substantially detrimental effect on his or her physical or mental health; (C) Causing a reasonable pupil to experience substantial interference with his or her academic performance; (D) Causing a reasonable pupil to experience substantial interference with his or her ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or privileges provided by a school. Cal. Educ. Code § 48900.
Bullying is different from harassment because the “bully” is not usually just one person with a grudge but is often a group of schoolmates, or people who were once thought of as friends. Bullying in the modern era is not just a message written on the men’s room wall “for a good time call…”, or name-calling in the schoolyard. Bullying, in the age of social media, is often fairly anonymous and because of the anonymity, typically more vicious and more likely to reach a wider audience, thereby, creating more bullies.
In November 1955, when George and Biff were in high school, bullying existed (obviously), but not much was done by the parents or the schools to deter this kind of behavior. In fact, if you were being bullied, you were likely to be told to turn the other cheek or “man up” and defend yourself (enter the Karate Kid).
However, in the wake of several high-profile suicides among students who were chronically bullied, and after two students, who said they were constantly bullied, attacked and opened fire on their fellow students at Columbine High School in 1999, various states started passing laws to stop bullying behavior among students. In the aftermath of the school shooting and in reaction to a local bullying-related suicide in the state, Georgia became the first state to pass bullying legislation and California followed shortly thereafter. In 2011, California passed the Safe Place to Learn Act located in the California Education Code §234(b) which provides that all students have a right to attend school without discrimination, harassment, violence, intimidation, and bullying and applies to students either at school, at a school function or in transit to or from school. Since then, there have been numerous amendments, revisions and new laws added to the books in California aimed at preventing bullying.
Now, how do these bullying laws affect Biff at all? Well, the answer is, they don’t…(wait for it)…yet. The scene shown above was off campus and while Biff is most definitely committing battery- willful force or violence used against another person, but the likelihood that George is going to go to the police and file a police report is slim to none and slim just left the bar.
Since Biff is basically a giant meathead, we assume that his bullying knows no bounds and would occur on campus and off. In those instances where he is bullying anyone on campus, or in transit to and from campus, the above-mentioned legislation would most definitely get Biff suspended, and eventually, expelled. Moreover, the “Under the Sea” dance is a school function, which would also fall under the above legislation. In addition to the many criminal charges Biff racks up while attempting to rape Lorraine in the car at the dance, Biff also continues his bullying of George and in doing so, almost breaks his arm.
While no one ever saw what happened, except Marty and Lorraine, schools today would have every inch of that parking lot under video surveillance, thus, enabling them to catch Biff in the act of yet more bullying. (With the amount of bullying by Biff just shown during the three days of this movie, I don’t see Biff even graduating from Hill Valley High School.)
Just to throw insult on injury- what does almost every human being on earth have in 2015? A cell phone! If this scenario were to occur today, we all know that Biff, his friends and all of those patrons at the diner would all have their cell phones out taking pictures and videoing George getting bullied by Biff. (Any video would also likely catch that Biff is having George do his work for him, which would lead to other disciplinary issues at school, but one issue at a time.) None of these people videoing the scene would bother to defend George, but all of these videos would wind up on Facebook, You Tube and other social media, leading to George getting ridiculed by even more people at school the next day. Moreover, why waste time bullying someone face to face, when you can do it all day on your cell phone or computer. We all know Biff would be mercilessly bullying George on any social media forum possible (as long as he knows how to work modern technology).
Luckily, thanks to the love of the internet and the cell phone, Biff Tannen and all of those lookie-loos sharing the video could be punished as well. Recently, Assembly Member Christina Garcia proposed AB 881, which becomes a law on January 1, 2015 and centers on protecting children from cyber bullying and reaches beyond the schoolyard to stop bullying wherever it occurs. Previous legislation was written before the explosive growth of electronic devices and instant communication, so AB 881 clarified that an “electronic act” means the creation OR transmission of any communication. This means kids who participate in cyberbullying can now be suspended for cyberbullying even if they were not the one who originated the document. (This bill was supported by the Junior League Long Beach, among others.)
Based on the current laws of California, and those effective in January 2016, Biff Tannen would be suspended…a lot, and most likely, expelled, for his bullying behavior.
Lessons learned here: Justice is sweet. High School sucks. Don’t be a bully, because you could end up in a pile of …
[ This post originally appeared on The Legal Geeks blog.]