Rules on Scouts’ Access Proposed
Public schools would not be able to use the Boy Scouts of America’s exclusion of homosexuals as a reason to deny the group equal access to facilities or recruitment opportunities, under proposed regulations announced last week by the Department of Education.
The rules are designed to implement the federal Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act, which became law in early 2002 as part of the No Child Left Behind Act. Enacted 18 months after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Boy Scouts’ right to exclude gays, the equal-access law followed moves by schools to withdraw sponsorship of Boy Scout troops and restrict their access to schools.
Besides the Boy Scouts, the rules would apply to a list of other organizations cited in the law, including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Girl Scouts of the USA, and Little League Baseball.
The proposed rules, which were released on Oct. 14 but were not yet published in the Federal Register, say that schools are not required to sponsor Scout troops or give them access to school facilities. But they must provide such access if they offer it to other youth or community groups, on terms just as favorable, the regulations say. And they could not cite contrary state or local laws as a reason for discriminating.
Handful of Complaints
Schools also could not treat the Boy Scouts less favorably in access to student information, space for recruitment, or communications forums such as classroom handouts or bulletin boards.
Complaints about alleged vio lations of the equal-access law would be handled under the standard enforcement procedures of the Education Department’s office for civil rights. The office has already had a handful of complaints, but has not found any violations, a department official said.
Eliza Byard of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, said the New York City-based group would file a comment stating that “it is inappropriate to have state-sanctioned discrimination enforced as part of programs” in public schools.
Greg Shields, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts, based in Irving, Texas, said the equal-access act had helped “school districts to recognize their constitutional obligations” and said the organization was grateful to federal officials for promoting compliance with it.
Vol. 24, Issue 08, Page 29Published in Print: October 20, 2004, as Rules on Scouts’ Access Proposed