Fighting Bullies

No one likes a bully. So why are Rose Mofford, Janet Napolitano and MTV distancing themselves from Arizona's Safe Schools, Safe Students program?

An e-mail to ChildLine to check if the USA anti-bully group had permission to copy, then change, the endorsements went unanswered.

A letter on the Safe Schools Web site from Vice President Al Gore, dated January 13, 2000, and accompanied by the vice presidential seal, could not be authenticated. Gore's press representatives were packing up and moving out when New Times called and never did get back with an answer about whether the letter was genuine. In it, Gore commends the Safe Schools program and says Shane Doan will be a great spokesperson for the group because he is a good "roll model [sic]."

The organization claims to have the endorsement of dozens of governors and attorneys general across the country. "Including the Arizona attorney general," Beaumont says. But Pati Urias, spokesman for Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano, says that's not true. The office has not endorsed the anti-bully group.

Mary and Rod Beaumont are the founders of the anti-bully hotline in Prescott.
Paolo Vescia
Mary and Rod Beaumont are the founders of the anti-bully hotline in Prescott.
Louie Koch, 16, answers a call to the hotline while Elijah Otten, 16, helps him out.
Paolo Vescia
Louie Koch, 16, answers a call to the hotline while Elijah Otten, 16, helps him out.

Another alliance touted on the Web site and in personal conversations is the group's partnership with the Arizona Association of School Resource Officers (police officers assigned to middle and high schools around the state) and its national umbrella organization. For more information on this working relationship, Beaumont told New Times to call Dave Kamleiter, a Scottsdale police officer who heads the Arizona group and sits on the executive committee of the national board. He even spelled out Kamleiter's name.

But Kamleiter says neither he nor the Arizona or national officers' group supports or endorses Safe Schools, Safe Students.

"We have done nothing with that organization," he says.

Kamleiter says after the group approached them for money, he and another police officer visited the Prescott office in December. While there, he says, the phone rang maybe three times over a three-hour period.

The group continues to ask the organization for money, he says.

"We don't do business with them because we can't substantiate what they are doing," Kamleiter says.

Beaumont says his group and the police organization had a misunderstanding, but will be working together informally.

In its own backyard, Safe Schools has built a relationship with one charter high school, using students as volunteer peer mediators in exchange for course credit. But Prescott police say while Beaumont claims to be heading an important international effort, he hasn't had much to do with other key players in town, including their department or other schools.

In fact, Sergeant Mike Kabbel, head of the department's community services division, is hard-pressed to say anything nice about the organization at all.

"As far as any service that the business is providing to this community, here or anywhere, I don't know of any," he says.

The teenagers who volunteer at the anti-bully center believe they are doing good things.

Louie Koch, age 16, Kat Beaumont, 14, and Jared Phillips, 15, say they know they are helping every time someone thanks them at the end of a phone call. They have no training manual or script to refer to when a kid or parent calls in. Nor are they monitored by an adult. But they say they know how to handle most calls: Tell the kid to talk to an adult about their problem, assure them -- if they are the victim -- that it wasn't their fault and reinforce their right to learn in a safe environment. They refer callers to their Web site for more information, where there is a list of tips for parents and kids -- and they pass on the suicidal calls to an adult, usually Rod or Mary Beaumont.

The Beaumonts readily admit they have no training in counseling or psychology, but say they have learned a lot through research, six months of on-the-job training and classroom observations.

Chuck Saufler, a school counselor who directed a three-year bullying project for the state of Maine, says a hotline might have some merit if those who answer the calls give good advice and refer the callers to legitimate organizations that can provide help. And Sue Limber, the Clemson bullying expert, says the benefits -- or harm -- that can come from such a hotline would depend on its purpose.

"If the purpose of the hotline is to provide general information, that's one thing. But if they are getting calls from very distraught and suicidal kids, that takes a certain level of expertise and sensitivity to deal with that," she says. "I would hope that someone in that position would have some special training."

The teenagers who man the lines also perform other functions -- surfing the Internet for statistics and planning fund raisers. Jared, who was attracted to the organization after seeing all the media coverage of the fourth graffiti attack, proudly displays a business card that describes him as an "advertising rep" and "peer mentor." Rod and Mary are so busy with things like applying for grants that they leave the grassroots fund-raising to the kids, they say. And Jared, with three weeks of experience under his belt, is charged with selling ads for the Safe Schools newsletter. (He says many firms have been extremely rude to him when he calls for support.)

The teens say they can be more effective talking to young people because kids can relate to them. Jared says that, as a gay teen, he has experienced plenty of bullying, discrimination and assaults. Louie, who is performing community service hours at the center for his part in an armed robbery, says after spending months in the Madison Street Jail with mostly minorities, he can relate to complaints of bullying based on race. And Kat says even if her parents didn't run the place, she'd probably want to work there anyway.

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