School boots Boy Scouts; Salt Lake school board member files federal complaint
Salt Lake City School Board member Michael Clara has jumped into the gay membership controversy surrounding the Boy Scouts of America, filing a federal complaint against his district because a principal did not allow a Cub Scout pack to meet at Mountain View Elementary.
The complaint, Clara’s second against the Salt Lake City School District this year, was filed Friday with Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
Clara said two parents complained to him that about 30 Cub Scouts were blocked from meeting at the school after the principal told them he was unsure whether the district’s anti-bias policy conflicted with the Scouts’ ban on gay members and leaders.
“Now they don’t have Cub Scouts. It’s one of the best gang-prevention programs out there,” Clara, a newly elected board member from the west side of Salt Lake City, said Friday.
Nationally, the Boy Scouts are surveying leaders and other stakeholders, and the group is expected to announce in May whether it will keep or change its policy.
District officials said they had not seen the complaint on Friday.
Superintendent McKell Withers said he thought the Cub Scouts and the school had agreed to wait until the May decision and then revisit the meeting request next school year.
“I thought the Cub unit was coming back next fall,” Withers said, adding he was surprised to hear about the complaint.
Clara said he was elected to represent his constituents. District leaders “don’t share my sense of urgency of the issues in my community, so my position is if you don’t share my urgency, then I’m still going to address it.”
His first civil rights complaint, which is still pending, questions whether inexperienced and ineffective teachers are overrepresented on the west side of the district.
The Great Salt Lake Council, which oversees the local Cub Scouts, was not a part of the new complaint, said Scout Executive Rick Barnes.
The Office for Civil Rights enforces five federal civil-rights laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability and age in programs that receive money from the U.S. Department of Education.
It enforces the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act, part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. In short, if a school allows outside groups to meet on campus, then the school must allow access to the Boy Scouts.
The Salt Lake City School District is in the process of expanding its Community Learning Centers, which pair at-risk youth with nonprofits that offer social and medical services, such as dentistry and optometry. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are partners with those centers, according to the district website, which Clara points out in his complaint.
“While the superintendent mulls over the banishment of the Cub Scouts from a school in my neighborhood, I am compelled to file this complaint with your office because school officials, in their effort to eliminate societal discrimination, have instead contributed to it,” Clara wrote in the complaint.
Law requires equal access for Boy Scouts
The Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act applies to all public elementary schools and secondary schools, and state or local education agencies that:
Receive funds made available from the Department of Education and provide an opportunity for one or more outside youth or community groups to meet on school premises or in school facilities before or after school hours.
Such schools, the act says, shall not discriminate against or deny equal access or a fair opportunity to meet for any group officially affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America or any other youth group listed in Title 36 of the United States Code as a patriotic society.