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The Safe Schools Coalition of Washington has asked, Seattle Public Schools to Restrict the Boy Scouts of America's Access to Students and School Buildings



Seattle Union Record, December 18, 2000
http://www.unionrecord.com
(online paper produced by striking workers of the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Gay-advocacy group asks for restricted school access for Boy Scouts

By Rebekah Denn, Seattle Union Record

A state coalition of advocates for gay and lesbian students has asked Seattle Public Schools to restrict the Boy Scouts of America's access to students and school buildings.

The Safe Schools Coalition of Washington made the request because of the Boy Scouts' national policy -- upheld in a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year -- barring openly homosexual members and leaders.

Safe Schools wants the school district to require the Scouts and other agencies now given special considerations -- such as free use of school buildings or the ability to send recruiting literature home with students -- to sign a non-discrimination agreement.

The School Board's policy and legislative committee asked the district's legal staff to look into the request. The committee was scheduled to review the issue Tuesday, but the meeting has since been postponed until January.

Committee leader Don Nielsen said last week that he does not know whether the committee or School Board will favor the request. He doubted any substantive action would be taken until after February.

Safe Schools co-chair Elizabeth Reis said the coalition approached Seattle, the state's largest school district, because "a lot of other districts watch what Seattle does for advice about how they should handle situations."

Safe Schools members include the Washington Education Association, the Gay Lesbian PTSA of Greater Puget Sound, and the Seattle Public Schools' own offices of Comprehensive Health Education and Drug/Alcohol Intervention, according to the organization's Web page. The coalition's goal is "to help make Washington State schools safe places where every family can belong, where every educator can teach, and where every child can learn, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation."

While the coalition has only approached Seattle with a formal request, Reis said it has been contacted by people in three other Washington school districts who are considering making similar requests.

The Safe Schools request is the latest in a national debate over the Scouts' policy, as organizations try to balance what they say is a valuable program for youths and their desire not to discriminate.

Earlier this month, the chancellor of the New York City school system barred city schools from sponsoring most scouting activities, saying the Scouts violated School Board policies by discriminating against gay people, The New York Times reported.

And the Broward County, Fla., school district, the nation's fifth-largest district, last month barred Boy Scouts from using its facilities, claiming the Scouts' policy violated the district's anti-discrimination policies, according to The Washington Post. (The Scouts have since sued the district, saying it is violating the organization's right to freedom of speech and association.)

Safe Schools does not want in any way to attack the Boy Scouts, Reis said, but it thinks the organization should not receive "extraordinary access" or official sanction from the schools.

"We think (the Scouts) do really good work, and that's why we think it's so sad that they want to exclude some boys from participation and some families from participation," she said.

Carol Murray, a spokeswoman for the Scouts' Chief Seattle Council, said no local schools have denied the Scouts permission to meet in their buildings, though some in the Seattle and Bellevue districts -- she estimated 10 to 12 -- have denied the organization the ability to promote its programs during the school day.

"What has happened so far that we've seen is, it's been decided on a school-by-school basis," she said.

"Scouting is continuing to grow, and for that we're very pleased," she said. "We're sorry that they're prohibiting such a well-rounded program for boys."

Whatever happens with the coalition's request, the Scouts' position on homosexuality has already led to some discussions in Seattle schools.

One was at Nathan Hale High School, which was approached last year about starting a Scout-sponsored outdoors program.

"The people here at Nathan Hale decided among themselves not to pursue it," said Principal Eric Benson. "We are a school that announces we welcome all kids."

And at Coho Elementary, parent Kyla Fairchild spoke at a PTA meeting this fall after her child brought home a flier recruiting new scouts.

Fairchild said schools should have no part in "supporting an organization that allowed bigotry and hatred." In an interview last week, she said the Coho principal had handled the issue well, stopping the flier's distribution as soon as he learned of its existence.

"As parents, it's up to us to stand up and say that's not OK and talk to our kids about it," Fairchild said. "It's easy to kind of push it under the rug, but it really is no different than any other kind of discrimination that happens to other groups of people."

When her own first-grader wanted to join the Scouts this year, Fairchild talked with him about why he could not.

"He has big blue eyes. I said, "How would you like it if a decision came down that blue-eyed boys don't get to have recess? You have to hope that other people around you will stand and say that's not fair."

Some agencies have found ways they say allow them to support the Scouts without supporting discrimination.

United Way of King County decided in September to direct its donations to the Scouts' Learning for Life program, a subsidiary which does not discriminate.

When she is not on strike, Rebekah Denn covers education for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. She can be reached at rdenn@nwlink.com.

 

 

 

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