Public School Puts Gay Kids First By Turning Down $55K Grant

boy scoutsYou don't see a lot of schools turning down grants in this economy. Certainly not public schools. But it sounds perfectly natural that the Pinellas County School Board said "thanks but no thanks" to a $55,000 donation from the Boy Scouts of America.

OK, maybe it sounds completely nuts. But this is what the Boy Scouts' storied history of discriminating against gays has done to American parents: put us between a rock and a hard place. Take the money, and a school that's supposed to protect kids -- all kids -- is throwing a bunch of them to the wolves. Don't take the money, and, well, you're a public school in the midst of a recession saying no to free money.


It's a conflict I understand all too well. In a rural area, the Boy Scouts represent one of the few outlets for young males. So when a little boy comes knocking on your door asking you to buy some BSA-labeled popcorn, you are stuck in a similar position to the Pinellas board members. Do I say yes, sign my name on a check written out to an organization that has practiced abhorrent discrimination against an entire population, and in essence put my stamp of approval on practices that fly in the face of everything I stand for? Or do I say no, with the full knowledge that most of that popcorn money is really just going to help some local Scouts defray the costs of going to visit a cool museum that their own parents might not be able to afford?

Not exactly Joseph Heller's rubric for a Catch-22, but close enough. The organization hurts kids, but so too does my decision to say no to the popcorn that I could easily buy.

In Pinellas County, the board members have had a similar collision of ideology vs. cold hard facts. School districts need money. But ethically, school districts are supposed to be safe havens for kids of all backgrounds.

And the BSA grants that have funded a character development program for district kids have come with strings. It takes the content of the program out of the district's hands. It allows the Scouts, a private organization that "takes the position that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the Scout oath ... and contrary to the Scout Law to be 'clean' in word and deed," to dictate what goes on inside a classroom.

For 11 years, that's how it has stood in Pinellas County. Until this week, when board members had the moral fortitude to say no more. They refused to let an organization that hurts kids in the doors of an institution that's made for kids. And now they're now faced with the unenviable task of funding character development at a time when bullying has reached epidemic levels, when kids are getting hurt because schools aren't doing enough to fight it. And they have to do it without a grant ... in the 2011 economy.

So were they right? In light of my popcorn conundrum, I still say yes. Because it's one thing for parents to sign their kids up for Boy Scouts, then send them knocking on my door. A private, personal decision by parents to sign their kids up for a private organization is, well, private. So is my own choice to spend my money on popcorn -- or not.

But the very definition of a public school takes this debate up a notch. A private organization shouldn't get to hold a crappy economy over the heads of a public school board in order to hurt kids whose parents have no choice in the matter. If you're in a public school, you serve all kids or you serve none. Ideology has no place inside a school building.

Do you think the board did the right thing? Do you struggle with this organization's background vs. the positive it does for kids?


Image via anja_johnson/Flickr

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