Below is the text of my letter on behalf of the American Civil Rights Union to the Guilford County School Board of North Carolina, in response to their plans to suppress the recruiting efforts and meetings of the Boy Scouts in the county’s school districts:
August 27, 2007
Dear School Board Member:
We understand that the Guilford County School Board will consider a couple of proposals relating to the Boy Scouts at its meeting this Thursday night, August 30. One proposal, allegedly based on safety concerns, would prohibit the Scouts and others from meeting in District schools during after school programs until 6 pm each night. The Scouts would have to hold any of their meetings at schools after 6pm.
Another proposal would prohibit the Scouts from distributing literature to other students and their families through the school’s notice distribution system that provides flyers to students to take home to their parents.
The federal Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act, 20 USC 7905, Section 9525 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by Section 901 of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, provides,
“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no public elementary school, public secondary school, local educational agency, or State educational agency that has a designated open forum or a limited public forum and that receives funds made available through the Department shall deny equal access or a fair opportunity to meet to, or discriminate against, any group officially affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America, or any other youth group listed in title 36 of the United States Code (as a patriotic society), that wishes to conduct a meeting within that designated open forum or limited public forum, including denying such access or opportunity or discriminating for reasons based on the membership or leadership criteria or oath of allegiance to God and country of the Boy Scouts of America….”
The school district cannot evade its responsibilities under this federal law through a sham claim regarding safety that is dubious on its face. We have seen no evidence that after school meetings by the Boy Scouts have raised any safety concern. Transparently, safety concerns are raised by requiring children to come back to school after dark for their meetings.
Similarly, under the federal law, the Boy Scouts cannot be prevented from using a school’s notice distribution system regarding their meetings at the school if any other outside group, or any student club or organization affiliated with an outside youth or community group, is allowed to use the notice distribution system. This would include the Red Cross, Selective Service, or the local homeless shelter.
We would be happy to receive and review any materials justifying these two proposals. But absent such a convincing demonstration, if the School Board adopts either or both of these proposals, we will seek an investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Education. Among the possible sanctions that could result from such an investigation is the loss of federal education funds for the school district.
In addition, if our investigation of the school district’s policies leads us to conclude that the rights of public school students in Guilford County are being violated, we will not hesitate to bring legal action to vindicate and enforce those rights.
Peter J. Ferrara