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SafeRides Program Stalls Due To Religion

"The public should not be required to sign a BSA Declaration of Religious Principle in a Public School program."
-Scott Cozza, President Scouting for All

From The Lewisboro Ledger

Jun 13, 2007

After 23 years

After 23 years, the future of John Jay High School's SafeRides program is in doubt. Because a parent complained several months ago that SafeRides members were required to sign a "declaration of religious principles," Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Lichtenfeld has been examining a new way to run the program without the school's financial backing. Since 1984, it has been a joint project with the Boy Scouts of America.

The matter came to the attention of the community because of a letter from SafeRides co-advisers Dr. Linda Burke and James Brandt. The letter, dated June 7 and e-mailed to high school students through their school e-mail accounts, stated that "the superintendent has decided that the SafeRides program, as it presently exists, must be terminated." The letter also mentioned that the complaining par ent "threatened to bring a lawsuit against our school district." According to Dr. Lichtenfeld, Dr. Burke and Mr. Brandt were not authorized to send out the letter, and had gotten these details wrong.

When called by The Ledger, Dr. Burke said she could not comment. The program was already on its scheduled summer hiatus before the letter was sent. It normally resumes with the start of school in the fall.

Boy Scouts of America

The SafeRides program is owned by the Venturers, a coeducational branch of the Boy Scouts of America, and chartered by the school district. The Scouts provide secondary insurance for the program, insuring the vehicles and the drivers in case of accidents. The district provides the space for the group to meet and a dedicated telephone line, and pays the stipends for the two teachers who act as faculty advisers, who received $1,226.50 each this year.

Because the Scouts could provid e insurance only for members, all SafeRides volunteers were required to join the Venturers. Included in the application was the Boy Scouts of America's Declaration of Religious Principle, which the organization requires all members to sign. The declaration, without endorsing any specific religion, states, in part, "The BSA maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God." For the complete text of the declaration, see sidebar.

"Even though the activity is extracurricular, it is supported by public funds," said Dr. Lichtenfeld. "It's a nondenominational statement, but nevertheless they objected."

Dr. Lichtenfeld told The Ledger that he had tried to obtain a waiver from the Scouts for the one student who objected, but that the Scouts had refused, and so the district is now looking into finding a sponsor organization to replace the district as the program's charterin g organization.

"At worst, what's ending might be the district sponsorship, not the program," said Dr. Lichtenfeld. He said that the district would probably be looking for the new sponsor over the summer. Should a new sponsor be found, it would pay for costs such as the teacher stipends that had previously been borne by the district. But the group would remain a club and would still be allowed to meet at the school and use school facilities, said Dr. Lichtenfeld. According to the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act, part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the school is legally required to allow groups affiliated with the Scouts to meet in school facilities.


SafeRides, created at John Jay 23 years ago, is a program that offers rides home to students on Friday nights. It was created to help cut down on drunk driving and car accidents caused by inexperienced drivers.

"I participate in SafeRides because I know kids who've gotten home and have had no memory of getting there," said John Jay senior Katie Hamren, vice president of SafeRides. "Anyone in the world can tell you that's a dangerous thing."

On any given Friday on which SafeRides is running, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., between four and eight students and an adult supervisor will gather in the teacher's lounge at John Jay High School. Some students monitor the phones, while others handle the driving.

"We don't just pick up drunk kids at parties, we pick up the completely sober sophomore who's keeping a friend company while an older sibling has a party, or the kid who got stuck at a train station," said Katie. "It gives kids a safe ride home, it prevents accidents and it prevents kids from being in a place where it's unsafe for them to be."

The cars each contain two students, a male and a female. The driver must have a senior driver's license, while the passenger must have at least a junior license.

Between them, they've handled about two to three calls per night this year, according to Katie.

"SafeRides doesn't do anything bad," Katie said. "It's purely a community service organization."




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