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Minneapolis schools OK scout materials

Steve Brandt, Star Tribune
November 5, 2005

Boy Scouts are back in Minneapolis schools.

Following a little-noticed federal mandate in No Child Left Behind law, the Minneapolis school district has reopened the backpacks of its students to Boy Scout recruiting materials.

That reverses a ban imposed in 2000 because the organization bars openly gay men from becoming scouting leaders.

Minneapolis scouting leaders report increased success in recruiting this fall. The Metro Lakes District, which includes Minneapolis, Richfield and St. Anthony, reported a 108 percent increase in new scouting registrations. Better organization for recruiting was one big reason. But access to boys through schools helps.

"It's very important. It's very hard to reach boys otherwise. They don't get all together in one place," said Renee Gutierrez-Wells, who led the district's recruitment campaign.

But scouting material isn't back in David Perry's classroom. When a sheaf of recruiting fliers showed up in the mailbox of the Folwell Middle School science teacher, he quietly deep-sixed them.

His rationale? "We were not told we had to pass them out," Perry said. He's active in a national organization that is trying to open scouting for gays and atheists.

The Minneapolis district prohibited scouts from distributing recruitment materials after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of Boy Scouts of America as a private organization to exclude openly gay men from scout
leadership ranks. But the 2002 federal law and accompanying regulations last fall mandated that schools give the same access to buildings and to students for recruitment that is given to other community groups, or
lose federal aid. The provision initiated by former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., doesn't require that schools sponsor scouting groups.

Literature from three scout troops or packs was approved for distribution last week alone in Minneapolis.

Lauri Appelbaum, coordinator of the district's program for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students and adults, said she learned of the change from principals who inquired. "I think it's really unfortunate that the federal government felt a need to take away local control from school boards," Appelbaum said.

In the Twin Cities, scouting organizations have walked what Northern Star Council spokesman Kent York called a fine line between belonging to a national organization and being representative of the community that
supplies scout volunteer leaders.

"We have tried to be aggressively neutral in the whole area of sexual orientation. It's outside the scope of what we do," York said. However, a 2002 resolution adopted by the national scout organization declares "that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the values espoused in the scout oath and law" and those "values cannot be subject to local option." Perry added, "It only takes one parent or scout to report you to national council."

The new federal policy doesn't affect one district that acted about the same time as Minneapolis. The Burnsville/Eagan/Savage district moved from a policy giving scout groups greater access than other community groups to a no-preference policy. That's OK under the law.




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