Below is the text of my follow-up letter on behalf of the American Civil Rights Union to the Guilford County School Board of North Carolina. (My first letter, dated August 27, 2007, may be found here.)
September 10, 2007
Dear School Board Member:
I am submitting these comments regarding the proposed rules concerning meetings of the Boy Scouts of America and other youth groups at Guilford County public schools, and communications regarding those meetings. I understand that the School Board has asked for comments regarding the proposed rules before its next meeting Thursday night, September 13.
We want to emphasize at the outset that the American Civil Rights Union does not represent the Boy Scouts, and we are not legal counsel for the Boy Scouts. We are an entirely separate, independent organization, with thousands and thousands of supporters across the country who want us to speak up to defend the Scouts and their values wherever we can and whenever we can. We have participated in legal battles as well to defend the rights of others to express and work for the values in which they believe.
One proposal now being considered by the Guilford County School Board, allegedly based on safety concerns, would prohibit the Scouts and others from meeting in district schools during after school programs until 6pm 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….”
This Act protects the Girl Scouts as well as the Boy Scouts, and other youth groups. We submit that restricting Scout meetings with a claim regarding safety that does not have a rational basis, where, indeed, the proposed rule seems to reduce safety rather than enhance it, would be a violation of the Act. We think asking students to go home and come back after dark for youth group meetings only opens up new dangers for students. We have not seen or heard any factual basis for a claim that allowing the Scouts to meet right after school along with other after school activities raises any real safety concern for anyone. Therefore, we think adoption of the proposed rule in these circumstances would warrant investigation by the applicable enforcement authorities, as well as us and others, as to whether the law has been violated.
Secondly, if the school district prohibits the Scouts from distributing meeting notices through the school’s standard notice distribution system, with a packet of flyers that is sent home with each student for the day, then under the Federal law the school district could not send home any notice from any outside organization that relates to the students in any way. That would include announcements for Little League tryouts, Red Cross blood drives, privately sponsored public events, etc. Including any of these notices but excluding the Boy Scouts, and other protected organizations, would constitute discrimination against the Scouts and not provide equal access, in violation of the Act. We believe as well that exactly which notices are sent out would be subject to freedom of information requests.
Finally, apart from what the law requires, there is the question of what constitutes sound public policy. Our nation is plagued by many youth problems, including violence, alcoholism, gangs, drugs, and teen sex and pregnancy. We submit that in this context school administrators would be failing their communities if they do not try to accommodate youth groups with a long record of promoting sound moral values and good conduct by students, like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. In 2010, the Boy Scouts of America will be celebrating their one hundredth anniversary. They and their Scout members have done much good work for our nation’s communities during that one hundred years, and lots of boys have benefited for their entire lives because of the values they learned in their scouting experience. For a School Board to deny the Scouts meetings during after school activities on the basis that these meetings are somehow dangerous, and to hamper Scout communications with the community, would reflect serious problems of judgment.