Week of November 11, 2004

Scouts' Honor
Doing their part: As a former Cubmaster and a current Assistant Scoutmaster here in my community, I find it disturbing that you even regard this event as newsworthy [Malcolm Gay, "Get Lost, Kid!" October 20]. But since you do, I feel compelled to comment.

First, Scout leaders are volunteers. They may be properly vetted in terms of the permissibility of their background (criminal behavior, etc.), but they are not professional social workers of any flavor, nor are they required to be by the Boy Scouts of America. In that vein, they are not equipped to deal with handicapped or disruptive children.

Second, no Scout leader worth his salt wants to exclude a boy from participating. Scout leaders, by and large, want to include every boy who is interested, and I can tell you from personal experience with my units and others I've encountered at various Scouting functions that there is broad tolerance for individual behaviors. I have full confidence that the leaders in question considered this at length before concluding that they could not accommodate these two boys.

It is a cruel fact of life, but a fact of life no less, that "normal" boys (and girls, too) are not comfortable in the company of severely handicapped peers. Scouting is a voluntary activity, and most parents I know leave the decision to participate in the hands of their children. If a child goes to a Tiger Cubs meeting (first-grade age) and finds the experience undesirable, then they are likely to drop out. In such a voluntary organization, there is no way to compel the children to participate, and even if a parent chose to do so, the discomfort would diminish the experience for the child.

Finally, I would point out that, as the boys grow older, there is more tolerance for handicapped participants. Boy Scouts can be compelled to be more tolerant, given their maturity, than Cub Scouts.

Public schools in most states attempt to mainstream handicapped children. Whatever social good that can be done through mainstreaming is done there. There is no justification to compel a volunteer organization with the burden of accommodating handicapped children. The experience and professional training required to do this effectively are not there. You presume that Scouting is a public accommodation and is thereby required to find a way to accommodate each and every child regardless of the challenges that this presents. We do everything we can given our limitations to find a way to include every boy who wants to participate, but sadly, the reality is that not every boy can be accommodated. You quote the number of registered handicapped boys at 100,000, but I can assure you that the real number is far higher, especially when you include the number of boys who are ADD- or ADHD-affected.

I am quite comfortable concluding that the Boy Scouts of America are doing their part to include all boys. Your demonization of Scouting is simply unacceptable.
Frank Hujber
Mercerville, New Jersey

Victim, shmictim: Your article on Pack 765 is kind of unfair, don't you think? You immediately took the side of the "victim," making it seem that the Boy Scouts were somehow heartless and discriminatory towards handicapped/disabled children.

It is sad that the pack had to ask the child not to attend. However, wouldn't it be inappropriate to state publicly the reason(s)? If the child was disruptive, uninterested, incapable and a safety concern, would you want him attending any other type of meeting with your children?

Unfortunately, the child has a mental disability that doesn't allow him to participate. It is not Pack 765's fault that he can't fit in. I feel bad for the child, but for the parent to put the child in that type of situation, wanting him to be around normal children when he isn't normal, has set this child up for the failure the parent is complaining about.

I think it was great that Pack 765 tried to accommodate this child. However, they had to make a decision, a very hard decision, to tell the parent not to bring the child back. Based on your argument, if she had enrolled him in a gifted-and-talented academic program and was asked not to bring her child back, would she and you state that the child had been unfairly discriminated against?

Give Pack 765 some credit. They tried. It sounds like she knew what was happening, that the child didn't fit in, and is playing the part of the victim instead of accepting her own culpability.
Roy Flores
Goldsboro, North Carolina

Voice of experience: I am an Eagle Scout from New Hampshire, and I am outraged by what the Cub Scout pack has done to this child. I have been involved with Scouting for over eighteen years and I can't believe a Scout troop would do this. I have worked with special-needs kids and I understand that they might not be able to do all of the activities in the pack. But that is no reason to tell someone that their kid is unwelcome. Scouting has changed my life in so many ways. I want to express my support for the Irby family.
James Mandeville, airman first class
United States Air Force
Okinawa, Japan

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