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BSA Needs the Public Schools

     Since the Dale decision, not only have United Way chapters and corporations taken another look at funding BSA Councils, but public schools have been forced to review their relationship with the BSA. Several school districts had already started this review around the time the Curran case went to trial - 1991.

     BSA's early disdain it once held for the educational system has had a curious evolution in the last 90+ years. During this time, BSA realized the critical importance access to the public school system was to the very survival of the BSA. For without BSA's ability to recruit new members from the public schools, BSA's membership would plummet. That is why BSA has recently taken to filing lawsuits against school districts that restrict their access to students. (The only times BSA has sought judicial injunction have been when school districts have sought to enforce their own non-discrimination policies.)
     Jeff Herrmann, Scout Executive for the South Florida Council, when asked about the possibility of being treated equally as other private organizations in their access to public school children, said that "if we don't have a way of advertising the programs in the schools; the message of scouting could not be as easily disseminated." He knows that membership in Scouting would plummet.
     The media and others have denounced -- as fact --  the control that religious sponsors have on the BSA. They point to the statistics that more than half of BSA's units are chartered by religious organizations -- citing in particular the number of units chartered by the Mormons, Roman Catholics and Methodists. Because these religious groups charter so many units, the assumption the media leaps to is that these religious organization therefore contribute enormous sums of money to BSA's coffers. When in fact, if the media would delve a bit deeper, they'd see that it is money from tax payers (through school districts and other local and federal governmental agencies) which far out weigh the meager $20 annual charter fee each sponsor pays for a unit.

BSA and PTA Chapters

Click here to go to the PTA Web Site     Prior to the 1980's, the relationship between BSA and public schools was generally cordial. As in most such relationships, there were problems, but none so insurmountable which would cause the overall relationship to be dissolved.
     A major problem did surface in the 1980's when BSA was inundated with lawsuits from parents whose children had been found to have been sexually assaulted by BSA volunteer leaders. Not only were the BSA councils finding themselves plaintiffs, but the organizations who chartered the units in which the accused pedophile served as a leader, found themselves being sued. In several cases, these organizations were local schools or the schools' local PTA chapter.
     When PTA volunteer organizations received notice that they were being sued for millions of dollars, they turned to the Boy Scouts of America for assistance in defending the PTA. BSA's response was basically -- tough luck, you're on your own!
     Actually, BSA reminded the PTA chapters that it was the responsibility of the chartering organizations to recruit and screen it's adult leaders. Neither BSA National, nor the local council, was responsible for screening adult leaders. In addition, BSA informed the PTA chapters that BSA provided no insurance coverage to chartering organizations to cover any such litigation costs. Nor did they have any plans to make it available.
     The PTA did not like this response from an organization they'd considered to be a partner. As a result of BSA's inability to negotiate with the PTA the unit charter requirements, the National PTA was left with no alternative but to tell local PTA chapters that chartering of BSA units was left entirely up to them. Below is their current policy regarding BSA:

  • "The National PTA has not considered the Boy Scouts of America as a cooperating organization since 1989;
  • That is because the Boy Scouts will not indemnify PTA leaders who sign an agreement to sponsor a Boy Scout troop.
  • Without indemnification, a PTA leader could be held personally liable in any legal action against the troop, its members or leadership.
  • That means that the PTA member may be sued for personal assets.
  • While the Boy Scouts do provide some liability coverage, it may not extend to personal liability insurance for troop sponsors. If you do decide to serve as a sponsor anyway, we urge you to consider purchasing additional personal liability insurance for yourself and for the other members of your local unit."

     Ironically, PTA's decision to discourage PTA chapters from chartering BSA units came at the end of a 2-year National Education Community Emphasis program, which had started in the fall of 1987. A copy of the emphasis program book, "Scouting: A Resource for Strengthening Education," for Council Scout Executives is available online as a PDF file. The comments about principals and schools are interesting.

     As early as the 1990 Curran trial, school districts started to take a look at both the discriminatory practices and religious aspect of BSA.  In addition to schools being a place for BSA to recruit new members and units to meet, some schools had been involved with BSA's "In-School Scouting" experience.
     Interestingly, just after the Curran trial concluded, BSA announced the creation of a new program - Learning for Life - which would replace the previous In-School Scouting programs. Since the new Learning for Life (LFL) program would be used within the public schools by public school employees, many thought BSA had ceased its discriminatory practices in the new LFL program. This was not the case, as BSA quickly and publicly reaffirmed that the "one major aspect of Learning for Life that remains the same as traditional BSA programs is that adult leadership in Learning for Life must meet the standards of traditional BSA programs, standards which have not changed."

     Since LFL's introduction in 1991, BSA has since dropped the discriminatory policies regarding both the leaders and youth in LFL programs. The reason? Money.
     The Curran trial caused public schools and United Way chapters to take a hard look at money going to an entity which discriminated on the basis of both religious belief and sexual orientation. LFL was not given to the school districts. Money had to be found, either from the school district or another source, to pay the BSA council for using the LFL curriculum.
     Since BSA was finding itself hammered from funding sources for its discrimination, they decided to perform some accounting sleigh of hand. Since BSA had created LFL as a "subsidiary corporation," they declared that LFL would henceforth no longer practice discrimination. Thus, United Way chapters and other concerned institutions redirected their funding from the local BSA council to the local LFL chapter.
     This permitted the UW Chapters and others to publicly declare that they were no longer contributing to an organization which discriminated. Since the LFL program is run by the local council, the funds go directly to the local council. BSA continues to discriminate and get funding, while the local UW chapter can insist that they are not supporting discrimination.
     This change allowed the majority of public schools to continue purchasing the LFL curriculum from BSA.
     In 2001, BSA reported that there were 1,697,701 students enrolled in LFL. At the cost $10/student, this comes to a total of $16,977,010, not to mention the $250/classroom fee. A conservative estimate would place the amount of revenue BSA receives from LFL at over $30 million/year. A vast majority of which comes from federal, state, and local educational agencies - taxpayer's money.

     So, when someone talks about the influence the churches have on BSA, think about the public schools. For without the public schools, BSA would not have the ability to easily (and freely) attract new members, places to hold meetings, nor the amount of public money currently flowing into BSA's coffers every day.
     Since there is no one organization to represent all of the public school districts to the BSA, there're unable to wield their clout with BSA. However, if school districts around the country decided that they'll only partner with organizations that respect and accept all Americans - regardless of their religious belief or sexual orientation - then BSA's days -- or at least their discrimination policies -- are numbered.

     Keep in mind, whenever you read about BSA's membership increasing, they usually fail to mention that included in those numbers are LFL participants -- which is the fastest growing program within BSA. (For more information on BSA's membership, visit our page on this subject.)

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