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Acton School Committee Tells the BSA They Cannot Distribute BSA Literature in Its School


Boston Globe, January 28, 2001
Box 2378, Boston, MA, 02107
(Fax: 617-929-2098 ) (E-Mail: letter@globe.com)
(http://www.boston.com/globe)
http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/028/northwest/Scout_suit_has_schools_reviewing_policy_on_notices+.html


Scout suit has schools reviewing policy on notices

By Caroline Louise Cole, Globe Correspondent

ACTON -- Schoolchildren here would no longer carry home notices of events from outside arts and recreational organizations under a proposed policy prompted by a US Supreme Court decision involving the Boy Scouts of America.

In August, the court affirmed the right of private organizations such as the Boy Scouts to refuse leadership posts to adults who define themselves as homosexuals.

Because such a policy violates the school system's own diversity policy, the Acton School Committee is now moving to limit the distribution of literature within the schools to groups sponsored by the school system or the town government, according to Acton School Superintendent William Ryan.

Organizations not affiliated with the schools or the town government would still be allowed to rent school facilities under separate policy guidelines, Ryan said.

''Even prior to the Boy Scout ruling, my principals had expressed concern about the amount of literature we were sending home with kids,'' Ryan said. ''What the Supreme Court decision did was prompt us to propose a tightening-up of our longstanding distribution policy.''

Ryan said using students as messengers is ''primarily an elementary school phenomenon'' although the regional Acton-Boxborough School Committee is considering the same policy for its junior high and high school.

The Boxborough School Committee, which operates the kindergarten-through-sixth-grade Blanchard Memorial School, discussed Acton's proposed policy change but decided to continue its current policy of allowing all nonprofit organizations access to its students' backpacks, according to Superintendent Richardson Bergeron.

After the Supreme Court decision, the state Executive Office of Education issued its own guidelines Nov. 15 outlining its rules for the distribution of nonschool literature and the use of school facilities.

The state ruled that no school system is required to allow the distribution or posting of materials by outside groups, but once it accepts material from one organization, it must accept material from all, regardless of their membership policies.

However, state law prohibits public school systems from sponsoring or endorsing groups with restrictive membership practices.

In Carlisle, the local Boy Scout troop lost its sponsor when the Carlisle School Association, a parent-teacher group, realized it was in violation of state law, Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson said.

''The scouts can still meet in the school but must pay the facilities fee charged to non-school groups,'' she said.

Parents of the Scouts organized the Friends of Carlisle Scouting to serve as the group's new charter sponsor, said Steven Horlitz, chairman of the Patriot District of the Boston Minuteman Council. Horlitz said that between the Boy Scout and Cub Scout units, membership stands at 82.

Among the notices Acton schoolchildren have taken home in recent weeks that would be banned under the policy were announcements and program advertisements from the Indian Hill Music Center in Littleton and the Children's Hands-On Art Museum in Ayer, as well a recruitment notice from the Boy Scouts' Nashoba Valley Council, Ryan said.

Gerald Bieler, the executive director of the Nashoba Council, said the Acton policy change would force his group to find other advertising media.

''I don't think it will be a huge problem for us,'' Bieler said, noting that Acton is the first school system in his 32-community region to restrict access to the Boy Scouts.

Acton is host to seven Scout units totaling 326 members, Bieler said.

Ryan said he feared by allowing the Scouts to continue distributing literature, the school system would open the floodgates to a host of other nonprofits without direct ties to Acton.

''We've always limited literature distribution to nonprofit organizations with a clear connection to the community,'' Ryan said. ''That means that if the American Cancer Society was sponsoring a walk-a-thon that happened to come through Acton on the way between Hopkinton and Boston we would have rejected their notice.''

Stoneham Superintendent Joseph Connelly said his School Committee reviewed the state's guidelines and decided to permit the Boy Scouts to continue to distribute literature.

''We felt our local scouting groups are there for the betterment of our youth,'' he said.

He said the school's antidiscrimination policy covers only school staff hiring and program administration.

Ryan said he expects Acton's policy will be adopted by the regional School Committee Feb. 1 and the local School Committee Feb. 15.

Globe Correspondent Caitlin Moody contributed to the preparation of this report.

 

 

 

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