Coun­cils re­view de­ci­sion to ad­mit girls

New Haven Register (New Haven, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Robert Marchant

GREEN­WICH — The board of direc­tors of the Boy Scouts of Amer­ica voted unan­i­mously on Wednesday to al­low girls into the cen­tury-old or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“We strive to bring what our or­ga­ni­za­tion does best — de­vel­op­ing char­ac­ter and lead­er­ship for young peo­ple — to as many fam­i­lies and youth as pos­si­ble as we help shape the next gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers,” Michael Sur­baugh, the group’s chief scout ex­ec­u­tive, said in a state­ment.

Green­wich Coun­cil Ex­ec­u­tive Kevin O’Shea said it would take some time be­fore lo­cal coun­cils worked out the im­pli­ca­tions of the de­ci­sion.

“We just re­ceived the in­for­ma­tion, so we’re re­view­ing it,” he said.

Of­fi­cials from the Boy Scouts of Amer­ica’s Con­necti­cut Yan­kee Coun­cil in Mil­ford, of which many of the troops in Greater New Haven are a part, could not im­me­di­ately be reached for com­ment. Calls and emails to a num­ber of area troop and Cub Scouts pack lead­ers also were not im­me­di­ately re­turned.

After ini­tially re­fer­ring ques­tions to a national PR spokesper­son, Scout Ex­ec­u­tive John Zseller of the Boy Scouts of Amer­ica Housatonic Coun­cil, which serves An­so­nia, Derby, Ox­ford, Sey­mour and Shel­ton, de­clined to com­ment and then hung up the phone.

The Green­wich Coun­cil of the Boy Scouts of Amer­ica has about 550 young peo­ple in­volved in scout­ing pro­grams, and is one of the old­est coun­cils in the coun­try. As such, it has taken a lead­er­ship

role in mem­ber­ship is­sues in the past, and oc­ca­sion­ally adopted a dif­fer­ent pol­icy than the national or­ga­ni­za­tion, such as when it al­lowed openly gay scout lead­ers to par­tic­i­pate be­fore the national ban was lifted in 2015.

Green­wich res­i­dent Ernest Thomp­son Se­ton was a founder of the Scout­ing move­ment in Amer­ica. He started the Green­wich coun­cil in 1912, two years after the in­cor­po­ra­tion of the Boy Scouts of Amer­ica, and he co-wrote the first Boy Scouts of Amer­ica Hand­book.

O’Shea said a bet­ter sense of what the lat­est di­rec­tive would mean in Green­wich would be­come clearer in the com­ing days.

The national or­ga­ni­za­tion said that, be­gin­ning in 2018, girls will be al­lowed into its Cub Scout pro­gram, which has been lim­ited to boys in the first through fifth grades or be­tween the ages of 7 and 10.

A sep­a­rate pro­gram for older girls will be an­nounced next year and is ex­pected to be avail­able in 2019. That pro­gram is ex­pected to en­able girls to earn the cov­eted rank of Ea­gle Scout.

The an­nounce­ment of the pol­icy change was im­me­di­ately met with crit­i­cism from the Scout­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion for girls. Girl Scouts of the USA of­fi­cials said it strains the cen­tury-old bond be­tween the two or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Girl Scouts of Con­necti­cut CEO Mary Barneby said in a state­ment Wednesday that her or­ga­ni­za­tion would re­main com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing “an all-girl, girl-led and girl-friendly en­vi­ron­ment” for fe­male Scouts.

“Girl Scouts is an or­ga­ni­za­tion over 100 years old with time-tested meth­ods and re­search-backed pro­grams that speak to the strengths of girl-lead­er­ship devel­op­ment. We are the or­ga­ni­za­tion cre­at­ing ... the fe­male lead­er­ship pipe­line,” she said. “Girl Scouts is, and will re­main, the scout­ing pro­gram that truly ben­e­fits U.S. girls by pro­vid­ing a safe space for them to learn and lead.”

National Girl Scouts lead­ers have sug­gested the BSA’s move was driven partly by a need to boost rev­enue, and they con­tended there is fis­cal stress in part be­cause of past set­tle­ments paid by the BSA in sex-abuse cases.

In Au­gust, the pres­i­dent of the Girl Scouts, Kathy Hopinkah Han­nan, ac­cused the Boy Scouts of seek­ing to covertly re­cruit girls into their pro­grams while dis­parag­ing the Girl Scouts’ op­er­a­tions. On Mon­day, Latino civic leader Charles Gar­cia, just days after be­ing named to the Girl Scouts’ national board, wrote an opin­ion piece for the Huff­in­g­ton Post call­ing the BSA’s over­ture to girls “a ter­ri­ble idea.”

“The Boy Scouts’ house is on fire,” Gar­cia wrote. “In­stead of ad­dress­ing sys­temic is­sues of con­tin­u­ing sex­ual as­sault, fi­nan­cial mis­man­age­ment and de­fi­cient pro­gram­ming, BSA’s se­nior man­age­ment wants to add an ac­cel­er­ant to the house fire by re­cruit­ing girls.”

In­stead of re­cruit­ing girls, Gar­cia said the BSA should fo­cus on at­tract­ing more black, Latino and Asian boys — par­tic­u­larly those from low-in­come house­holds.

The BSA re­cently in­creased its an­nual mem­ber­ship fee for youth mem­bers and adult vol­un­teers from $24 to $33, but Sur­baugh said the de­ci­sion to ex­pand pro­gram­ming for girls was not driven by fi­nan­cial fac­tors. He ex­pressed en­thu­si­asm at the pos­si­bil­ity that the changes could draw hun­dreds of thou­sands more girls into the BSA ranks over the com­ing years.

The an­nounce­ment fol­lows many months of out­reach by the BSA, which dis­trib­uted videos and held meet­ings to dis­cuss the pos­si­bil­ity of ex­pand­ing girls’ par­tic­i­pa­tion be­yond ex­ist­ing pro­grams, such as Ven­tur­ing, Ex­plor­ing and Sea Scouts.

Sur­veys con­ducted by the Boy Scouts showed strong sup­port for the change among par­ents not cur­rently con­nected to the scouts, in­clud­ing His­panic and Asian fam­i­lies that the BSA has been try­ing to at­tract. Among fam­i­lies al­ready in the scout­ing com­mu­nity, the big­gest worry, ac­cord­ing to Sur­baugh, was that the pos­i­tive as­pects of sin­gle-sex com­rade­ship might be jeop­ar­dized.

“We’ll make sure those en­vi­ron­ments are pro­tected,” he said. “What we’re pre­sent­ing is a fairly unique hy­brid model.”

Dur­ing the out­reach, some par­ents ex­pressed con­cern about pos­si­ble prob­lems re­lated to overnight camp­ing trips. Sur­baugh said there would con­tinue to be a ban on mixed-gen­der overnight out­ings for scouts ages 11 to 14. Cub Scout camp­ing trips, he noted, were usu­ally fam­ily af­fairs with less need for rigid po­lices.

The Girl Scouts, founded in 1912, and the BSA are among sev­eral ma­jor youth or­ga­ni­za­tions in the U.S. ex­pe­ri­enc­ing sharp drops in mem­ber­ship in re­cent years. Rea­sons in­clude com­pe­ti­tion from sports leagues, a per­cep­tion by some fam­i­lies that they are old-fash­ioned and busy fam­ily sched­ules.

As of March, the Girl Scouts re­ported more than 1.5 mil­lion youth mem­bers and 749,000 adult mem­bers, down from just over 2 mil­lion youth mem­bers and about 800,000 adult mem­bers in 2014. The Boy Scouts say cur­rent youth par­tic­i­pa­tion is about 2.35 mil­lion, down from 2.6 mil­lion in 2013 and more than 4 mil­lion in peak years of the past.

Ear­lier this year, the National Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Women urged the Boy Scouts to al­low girls to join. NOW said it was in­spired by the ef­forts of a 15-yearold New York City girl, Syd­ney Ire­land, to em­u­late her older brother, who is an Ea­gle Scout.

Un­like the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts have main­tained girls-only sta­tus for all their pro­grams. The em­pow­er­ment of girls is at the core of its mis­sion.

“We know that girls learn best in an all-girl, girl-led en­vi­ron­ment,” said An­drea Bas­tiani Archibald, a psy­chol­o­gist who pro­vides ex­per­tise on devel­op­ment for the Girl Scouts’ national pro­gram­ming.

The Boy Scouts’ new pol­icy on girls was hailed by Zach Wahls, an Ea­gle Scout who played an ac­tive role in pres­sur­ing the BSA to end its ban on gays. How­ever, he urged the Boy Scouts to take one more step and end its ex­clu­sion of athe­ists and non-be­liev­ers who do not pro­fess a “duty to God.”

Alex von Kley­dorff / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia Hun­dreds of Boy Scouts with The Con­necti­cut Yan­kee Coun­cil board buses this sum­mer in Bridge­port, headed for the ten-day National Scout Jam­boree in West Vir­ginia.

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