Arundel couple urges board to ban Scouts from public schools

Organization's policy against homosexuals called discriminatory

September 22, 2000|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

The issue of exclusion of avowed homosexuals from the Boy Scouts of America has reached the Anne Arundel County school board.

Three months after the Supreme Court upheld the right of the organization to set that membership requirement, an Annapolis couple is urging the Board of Education to ban Scout groups from using county public schools.

Susie Collins and her husband, Joe Thompson, stood before the board with their 8-year-old fraternal twins, Martin and Leslie Thompson, to present their views during an open-comments period at the board's Wednesday night meeting. The couple urged the board to keep Scouts out of school buildings, calling the organization's policy discrimination.

Their challenge to the school board is one of several being made nationwide in an attempt to ban the Boy Scouts from using public facilities. Scouting has lost thousands of dollars in United Way funding in some states as a result of the policy.

"It's wrong to let the Scouts use the schools," said Susie Collins, 46, who teaches at an Annapolis day-care facility. "It would be wrong to let anyone use the school who discriminates, because the school doesn't discriminate."

Further discussion likely

School board members did not respond to the couple's comments at the meeting, but the issue is likely to be discussed at future meetings, some members said yesterday. At least two members have said they intend to look further into the issue. A topic needs the support of two members to make it onto the agenda.

"I'm interested in exploring it with the board," said Carlesa R. Finney, a seven-year member of the board.

Finney said she hadn't considered the effect that the Supreme Court's decision could have on the position of local school systems but that the couple's comments "certainly generated some thoughts for me last night. I'll probably be talking to a few board members to see what their thinking is."

Anthony J. Spencer, a new member of the board, said he, too, would like to look further at the issue but that he was not sure "that the school system should do anything different than they've been doing."

"You have to investigate," Spencer said. "I will bring it back up. I am interested in knowing more about that. It's not going to go away."

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision in June, supported the Boy Scouts of America's right as a private organization to ban gays from leading troops and barred states from forcing the organization to do so. The group has had its policy on homosexuals since 1978.

Since the decision, there has been a public backlash, including litigation aimed at keeping the group from receiving public funds and cutting off free use of public property, mostly in Florida. The organization has lost or is in danger of losing millions of dollars as United Way funding has been pulled or is being held back in about a dozen states.

Some members of Congress tried unsuccessfully this month to revoke the group's 84-year-old federal charter, which would have prohibited Boys Scouts of America from operating as a not-for-profit, tax-exempt group. The proposal was overwhelmingly rejected in the House of Representatives.

This is the first challenge in the Baltimore area, said Bob Myers, director of finance and marketing services for the Scouts' Baltimore Area Council. Myers said the school board cannot prohibit the group from using public buildings.

`It's an option'

"If [the schools] are open to anybody, they're open to everybody," Myers said. "It's the same as saying Catholics can't use something because of their beliefs. We're not requiring that kids belong [to the Scouts]. It's an option."

School board staff attorney Darren Burns said no board members have asked for a review of the schools' policy on the use of public facilities, which would incorporate the Scouts' use of buildings and Scouting organizations' access to students.

Use of school buildings is generally managed by principals, Burns said. They are not allowed to entertain groups who discriminate on the basis of age, sex, race, religion or national origin, but sexual orientation is not a discrimination qualifier in schoolwide, local or state policies or law, he said.

This year, no more than seven Scout groups have applied to use county public schools for meetings, said school system spokesman Michael Walsh. The groups are not charged a fee.

Collins said her family is not "out to get the Boy Scouts," calling it a "wonderful organization" that her 8-year-old son, Martin, is excited about possibly joining. But she said she and her husband were saddened by the group's stance on gays and will not participate.

"This is one thing where I think I can make a difference, and I have to speak out," Collins said. Banning gays "is not in our philosophy," she said.

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