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Share School Issues CenterAs a Supreme Court ruling highlights the Boy Scouts' ban on homosexuals, the organization finds itself being excluded too. A growing number of local school districts are denying the Boy Scouts access to school buildings for meetings. The Boy Scouts organization is crying foul, stating it's not fair that schools are discriminating against their "moral" values. Included: Guidelines from the National School Boards Association.

Across the nation, school boards are finding themselves in a quandary over whether to permit the Boy Scouts of America to continue using their buildings for after-school meetings. Boards are also reconsidering a long-time practice in some districts that permits the Boy Scouts to recruit members on school premises.

NSBA Guidelines for Supporting Organizations

In response to numerous requests about whether school boards should allow the Boy Scouts to continue using school buildings, the National School Boards Association recently offered its members the following guidelines:

* First, school boards must understand there are two levels of support that local Scout troops generally seek from schools: sponsorship and permission for troops to meet in school buildings.

* School boards must realize that by sponsoring the Boy Scouts, the school district is fully responsible for the Boy Scouts' actions.

* School boards that allow organizations to meet in school buildings should continue to allow Boy Scout troops to meet in their buildings. To do otherwise would be "content" discrimination.

* There are state laws on the issue of discrimination in educational programs. Whether schools can legally continue sponsorship of Boy Scout troops is a matter of state law.

* Generally, school boards should adhere to their own criteria to determine which nonprofit organizations can use their school buildings.

* School boards should hold all organizations to the same standards and conditions for using school buildings.

Most school boards had not given their relationship with the 90-year-old youth organization a second thought until the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Boy Scouts' ban on gays four months ago in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale. That ruling confirmed the Boy Scouts' First Amendment right to exclude both gay leaders and gay members from its organization.


"[School boards] are confused," said Julie Underwood, general council for the National School Boards Association. During the past couple of months, Underwood has counted more than 80 inquiries on the NSBA's listserv about whether school boards should continue to permit the Boy Scouts to use public school facilities.

"They are concerned. They don't want to discriminate," Underwood told Education World. "They are asking that if the Boy Scouts do discriminate, what does that say about them if they support the Boy Scouts? Our national association and most state and local associations have policies banning discrimination."

Underwood explained that the NSBA does not endorse the Boy Scouts based on the association's nondiscrimination policy and criteria for endorsement of organizations.

"We're not telling local school boards to disaffiliate themselves from the Boy Scouts," Underwood added. However, the NSBA advises school boards to understand that there are two different levels of support. If a school board sponsors the Boy Scouts, then it must take full responsibility for the Boy Scouts' actions, including discrimination, Underwood said.

If the school board has in place a policy with specific criteria to determine which nonprofit organizations can use its buildings, the board must adhere to that policy for all organizations. If the policy bans organizations that discriminate, then the school board can ban the Boy Scouts. However, if the policy does not include nondiscrimination as part of its criteria, the school board should permit the Boy Scouts to continue using the school. Otherwise, the school board would be discriminating against the Boy Scouts, Underwood explained.


The American Civil Liberties Union agrees with the NSBA. The Boy Scouts should be held to the same standard and provided the same access as other nonprofit organizations if permitted to use public buildings, said Eric Ferrero, spokesman for the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project.

"The assumption has been that mom, apple pie, and the Boy Scouts go together," Ferrero said. "All over this country people are coming forward and asking about the Boy Scouts. It is more politicized now with the Supreme Court ruling, and that's why parents are asking why the Boy Scouts have special treatment."

School boards need to take a close look at the kind of access afforded to the Boy Scouts, Ferrero said. For example, one school district allows the Boy Scouts to send home flyers with the students' report cards, Ferrero said. "Can the 4-H Club recruit in the same manner, by mailing home a flyer with the report cards? Certainly the Boy Scouts shouldn't have more access to recruiting students."

Another example of what Ferrero characterizes as favored treatment is a lease between the Boy Scouts and the city of San Diego for $1 per year for exclusive use of 18 acres of waterfront property, he added. The ACLU and the Tom Homann Law Association filed a lawsuit in August asking the city to terminate its lease with the Boy Scouts.

"What has been unusual about this is that it's not a single organization that has prompted the attention to the Boy Scouts," Ferrero said. "The issue has cropped up quickly and sporadically throughout the nation. It's an indication of the grassroots nature of this concern."


The Boy Scouts are asking for the same respect they give others whose ideas and customs are different from their own. They maintain that although they tolerate differences, they should not be required to abdicate their own religious and moral values. "We simply ask to be treated like any other not-for-profit organization," said Gregg Shields, spokesman for the Boy Scouts.

"If we can't meet in school buildings because we disagree with your policies, that would not be proper," Shields told Education World. "Boy Scout members are taxpayers, like in any other organization."

"This isn't a new issue. The issue has been widely discussed. We've been sued by agnostics, atheists, girls who want to be Boy Scouts, and homosexuals," added Shields.

So far, the Boy Scouts' recruiting efforts don't appear to have been hurt by the growing controversy since the Supreme Court ruling. "So far we've had our best recruiting season ever," Shields said. "Parents want for their child the same kind of moral values that the Boy Scouts have and always stood for when their parents raised them 15 to 20 years ago.

"Boy Scouts is really driven by volunteers," Shields said. The organization currently has 1.2 million adult volunteers.

It's still too early to know what the impact will be both financially and on Boy Scout membership, Shields said. He knows of only a few United Way chapters and a handful of school districts that have stopped supporting the Boy Scouts.

The national organization did take issue with the state of Connecticut for removing the Boy Scouts from its list of charitable organizations state employees can check for automatic payroll deductions. The organization is currently suing the state for that action.

"That is discrimination from our viewpoint," Shields said.

Diane Weaver Dunne
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World

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