In his­toric shift, Boy Scouts to ex­pand girls’ par­tic­i­pa­tion

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - FRONT PAGE - By David Crary

NEWYORK» In its lat­est mo­men­tous pol­icy shift, the Boy Scouts of Amer­ica will ad­mit girls into the Cub Scouts start­ing next year and es­tab­lish a new pro­gram for older girls based on the Boy Scout cur­ricu­lum that en­ables them to as­pire to the cov­eted Ea­gle Scout rank.

Founded in 1910 and long con­sid­ered a bas­tion of tra­di­tion, the Boy Scouts have un­der­gone ma­jor changes in the past five years, agree­ing to ac­cept openly gay youth mem­bers and adult vol­un­teers, as well as trans­gen­der boys.

The ex­pan­sion of girls’ par­tic­i­pa­tion, an­nounced Wednesday after unan­i­mous ap­proval by the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s board of direc­tors, is ar­guably the big­gest change yet, po­ten­tially opening the way for hun­dreds of thou­sands of girls to join.

Many scout­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions in other coun­tries al­ready al­low both gen­ders and use gen­der-free names such as Scouts Canada. But for now, the Boy Scout la­bel will re­main.

“There are no plans to change our name at this time,” spokes­woman Effie De­li­markos said in an email.

Un­der the new plan, Cub Scout dens — the small­est unit — will be sin­gle-gen­der, ei­ther all-boys or all­girls. The larger Cub Scout packs will have the op­tion to re­main sin­gle gen­der or welcome both gen­ders. The pro­gram for older girls is ex­pected to start in 2019 and will en­able girls to earn the same Ea­gle Scout rank that has been at­tained by astro­nauts, ad­mi­rals, se­na­tors and other lu­mi­nar­ies.

Boy Scout lead­ers said the change was needed to pro­vide more op­tions for par­ents.

“The val­ues of scout­ing — trust­wor­thy, loyal, help­ful, kind, brave and rev­er­ent, for ex­am­ple — are im­por­tant for both young men and women,” said Michael Sur­baugh, chief scout ex­ec­u­tive.

The an­nounce­ment fol­lows many months of out­reach by the BSA, which dis­trib­uted videos and held meet­ings to dis­cuss pos­si­bil­ity 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 of the USA have crit­i­cized the ini­tia­tive, say­ing it strains the cen­tury-old bond be­tween the two or­ga­ni­za­tions. Girl Scout of­fi­cials 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 BSA ranks over the com­ing years.

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-year-old 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 non­be­liev­ers who do not pro­fess a “duty to God.”



In this Mon­day file photo, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts salute dur­ing a Me­mo­rial Day cer­e­mony in Linden, Mich.

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