Salt Lake City School District says no Scouts were banned from school
Federal complaint • Board member Michael Clara says pack was denied equal access.
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The Salt Lake City School District is firing back against a federal complaint stating it denied a Cub Scout pack permission to meet at one of its elementary schools.

School Board Member Michael Clara on March 29 filed the complaint with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights after two parents told him they and their 30 Cub Scouts were denied access to hold a pack meeting at Mountain View Elementary's community learning center.

The district disagrees with his version of events.

"We look forward to speaking with the Office of Civil Rights and offering accurate information on the specifics of this complaint," said a district statement released Wednesday.

It states no one was denied access, though the school's principal was concerned about the conflict between the Boy Scouts of America's policy to ban gays from its ranks and the district's antidiscrimination policy, as well as the "consistency and quality" of the program's offerings.

"However, the scouting representative was told that he and the scouts could set up a contract to use the school building, just like any other community group," the statement reads.

It continues, saying non-profit groups often are charged a nominal fee to rent space in a school, but those fees can be waived. The district also points to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which "does not require a school to partner with a scouting group. It says groups must be given similar access to public school buildings. In this specific case, the Cub Scout group was told directly how they could access the building."

Clara says Scout groups meet at elementary schools throughout the district, and he says none of those groups have had to pay any fees or go through the process the district has outlined.

"That's not equal access. The district is condoning this principal's action and misapplication of the policy in order to sustain his decision," Clara said. "I'm disappointed that instead of addressing the problem, they choose to go into a public relations counteroffensive."

This is the second civil rights complaint Clara has filed this year. His first one, which is still pending, questions whether inexperienced and ineffective teachers are overrepresented on the west side of the district.

He says he has taken the appropriate local steps by contacting school district Superintendent McKell Withers and the president of the school board before contacting the federal office.

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 pointed out in his complaint.

smcfarland@sltrib.com

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