The Indian Waters Council is taking about the only stand it can on the major change in policy announced by the Boy Scouts of America on Wednesday.
The council -- which serves more than 5,000 families in eight counties including Orangeburg, Calhoun and Bamberg -- is acknowledging there is division within its ranks on opening the door to girls becoming part of Boy Scouts for the first time. The organization will admit girls into the Cub Scouts starting in 2018 and establish a new program for older girls based on the Boy Scout curriculum that enables them to aspire to the Eagle Scout rank. Boy Scout troops will not include girls.
On Thursday, the Indian Waters Council announced it has heard from many constituents both positive and negative about the policy change.
“We have observed that overall, those in our Scouting family in the Midlands have been in favor of the idea to include girls in Cub Scouting,” said Doug Stone, Scouting executive for the council.
Those skeptical of the decision have expressed that Boy Scouts should remain as its name suggests, just for boys, Stone said.
“This plan changes nothing about our Boy Scout program; it will remain single-gender,” Stone said. “The program for older girls that will allow them to earn the rank of Eagle Scout will be announced in 2018 and rollout in 2019.”
Under the new plan, Cub Scout dens — the smallest unit — will be single-gender, either all-boy or all-girl. The larger Cub Scout packs will have the option to remain single-gender or welcome both genders.
The Indian Waters’ announcement said the Boy Scouts national board of directors’ decision “comes after long and thoughtful evaluation of how to bring the benefits of Scouting to the greatest number of youth possible and adapt to the changing needs of today’s families. These evaluations included results of numerous research efforts, gaining input from current members and leaders — as well as parents and girls who have never been involved in Scouting — to understand how to offer families an important additional choice in meeting the character development needs of all their children.”
But the change is not without its critics, not the least of which is the Girls Scouts of the USA.
The Girl Scouts sought unsuccessfully to dissuade the Boys Scouts from making the change and said it will remain committed to a single-gender mission.
The organization has criticized the Boy Scouts’ initiative, saying it is driven more by a need to boost revenue than a fundamental change in position on the need for single-gender Scouting.
As of March, the Girl Scouts reported more than 1.5 million youth members and 749,000 adult members, down from just more than 2 million youth members and about 800,000 adult members in 2014. The Boy Scouts organization says current youth participation is about 2.35 million, down from 2.6 million in 2013 and off more than 4 million from peak years.
According to The Associated press, surveys conducted by the Boy Scouts showed strong support for admitting girls among parents not currently connected to Scouting, including Hispanic and Asian families that Boy Scouts has been trying to attract.
Among families already in Scouting, the biggest worry is the positive aspects of single-sex comradeship might be jeopardized, according to Michael Surbaugh, chief Boy Scouts executive.
The worries are not without reason. There are benefits to allowing all young people, regardless of gender, aspire to an honor such as Eagle Scout, but in a world where equal opportunity for all is an objective, is there no place for the single-gender experience?
While some will say no, they also might wonder why there is so much lament about boys not learning how to behave as young men, and girls missing out on experiences and training unique to young women.
The Girls Scouts’ statement puts it this way: "Girl Scouts is, and will remain, the scouting program that truly benefits U.S. girls by providing a safe space for them to learn and lead.”
Boys Scouts will be committed to the same, but now will do so as an organization with what Surbaugh calls “a hybrid model.” The change can work but whether it is for the long-term betterment of the organization and youth and families remains to be seen.
In the meantime, leaders will move forward in accomplishing the mission of the organization in the tradition of Boy Scouting.
As Stone states: “The great volunteers and staff at Indian Waters Council look forward to supporting our families and scouters in new ways with these expanded program offerings.”