Impact of Bias Policy Adopted by S.F Board Pondered

By Ellen Flax — October 02, 1991 4 min read

Bay Area educators and community groups are concerned that a new nondiscrimination policy designed to prevent the Boys Scouts of America from providing instruction in San Francisco schools may have the effect of banning a wide range of volunteer groups from the classroom.

Although the policy, which was adopted by the school board last month, does not mention the Boy Scouts by name, district educators acknowledge that the Scouts, who bar homosexuals and atheists from becoming members or leaders, were the major target of the measure.

But in recent days, some have voiced concern that many of the 400 cooperative relationships the district has forged with groups as diverse as Foster Grandparents, a local church, and the alumni club of a women’s college could be jeopardized by the broadened policy. Some of these groups require their members to be a particular age, sex, or religion, and thus could be labeled discriminatory.

“We feel we need all the community support we can get,” said Diana Schindler, president of the San Francisco P.T.A. With this new policy on the books, Ms. Schindler said, “the perception is, ‘We don’t want you, we don’t need you.’”

To determine how broadly the policy can be interpreted, Superintendent Ramon Cortines has asked the city attorney to review the statement. He is expected to release his opinion later this month.

Under the new policy, any “organizations, associations, and independent contractors” that provide educational programs, activities, or services during the regular school day must have the same nondiscrimination policy as the district’s.

Board policy states that the school district “shall not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, creed, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, or handicapping condition.”

8,000 In-School Scouts

Although both boys and girls can participate in the in-school scouting program, which has been offered during classtime since 1978, only boys are registered as Boy Scout members, and only boys can participate in field trips and summer camp, said Marty Cutrone, the director of field services for the San Francisco Bay Area Council of Boy Scouts. The in-school program, which serves about 8,000 beys and several thousand girls, offers lessons about health, safety, and self-esteem at the elementary-school level, and provides career-exploration services for high-school students, Mr. Cutrone said.

The Scouts recently announced a new program, “Learning for Life,” that will supplant the in-school scouting program. The new program will admit openly homosexual or atheist students, but the adults who lead the program, including public-school teachers, must conform to the traditional standards of the organization. (See Education Week, Sept. 4, 1991 .)

“We feel that those that stand to lose the most from this whole decision will be the students of San Francisco,” said Blake Lewis, the national spokesman for the Boy Scouts.

“Despite this decision, we stand firm on our standards and values,” he said.

Tom Ammiano, the school-board member who sponsored the new policy, said that “the focus is on discrimination. Of course, the Boy Scouts will be looked at immediately.”

The policy, he said, is not meant to prohibit most community groups from volunteering in the schools. There is a “qualitative difference,"he said, between the Boy Scout leaders, who teach in class, and members of other potentially exclusive groups, who provide volunteer services.

“The Boy Scouts have particularly and adamantly said they will not admit homosexuals and atheists,” said Mr. Ammiano, the board’s first openly gay member. “This goes against the grain of the public schools.”

‘Looking for Alternatives’

But the policy, as it is currently worded, may affect a wide variety of groups that have “adopted” schools or provide other volunteer services, said Thomas Sammon, Superintendent Cortines’s executive assistant.

He said these organizations include the U.S. Coast Guard and the Navy, which do not allow homosexuals to enlist; a black men’s fraternity that permits men of all races to join but not women; Foster Grandparents, which requires its members to be at least 60 years old; and a gay and lesbian speakers’ bureau.

Until the city attorney issues his opinion, and the board debates changing the policy, Mr. Cortines will consider ways of offering the scouting program before or after school, Mr. Sammon said.

The Rev. Elizabeth Massie of the Portalhurst Presbyterian Church said her church will maintain its relationship with the nearby West Portal Elementary School “until we are told we can’t be there.”

She said church members, who must believe in Jesus, are running a speech contest and have participated in an after-school tutoring program.

“I agree with their concerns about discrimination,” she said, "[but] their focus should be on what we do in school, not what we do at home.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 02, 1991 edition of Education Week as Impact of Bias Policy Adopted by S.F Board Pondered