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I really enjoy your columns and appreciate your straightforward answers.
I was recently given the honor to serve as our troop’s Committee Chair and didn’t have to look far before I uncovered some serious problems. The Scoutmaster has been giving “partial credit” to Scouts in their leadership positions. I had a hard talk with him, and he told me that he does this because the Scouts didn’t do their jobs or had bad behavior. I told him that he can’t refuse to give full-tenure credit, per BSA policy, and that he was arbitrarily punishing Scouts for his own lack of performance. His response was that counsels each Scout in a leadership position at the end of their tenure and at that time tells them how much credit they’ve earned, and why it’s not “full” credit, and went on to say that the Scouts should have known they weren’t getting full-tenure credit, because he “had to talk to them” several times during their tenure. In response to this approach to leadership development, I removed the Scoutmaster from his responsibilities with the troop.
Now, do I have the authority to restore the Scouts’ leadership tenure credit due them, to get back in line with BSA policy?
Related to this, this Scoutmaster granted some of the Scouts between four and six weeks of leadership “credit” for having planned a Court of Honor (categorized as a “special leadership project to benefit the troop,” by the Scoutmaster, for the Scouts’ rank advancement). Is planning a Court of Honor really a “special project”?
Another one… The Scoutmaster Handbook says that the Scoutmaster can put qualifications on youth leadership positions. What sorts of qualifications? Age? Rank? Behavior? Attendance? Is this for all positions, or just elected positions?
And another… Can a Scoutmaster give a special project to, let’s say, a Librarian, Scribe, or Quartermaster, as part of their leadership responsibilities?
Regarding the Order of the Arrow, can a Scoutmaster remove a Scout from the eligibility list for the annual troop OA election? If so, shouldn’t he talk to the Scout prior to election, so the Scout isn’t surprised that his name has been removed from the ballot?
As Committee Chair, what is my involvement with the Scoutmaster and his running the program side of the troop (other than removing him if he refuses to follow BSA policy)? I want to make sure the program is delivered the way it’s written. I’ve already had a couple of talks with our new Scoutmaster, and told him that “True North” (to borrow your phrase) is the only direction this troop will aim at, from now on, and our two Assistant Scoutmasters also completely agree with this!
I’m sorry for so many questions, but I simply uncovered a whole bunch of serious problems! I believe our troop can be successful, if it’s run the way the program’s written, and I want what’s best for our Scouts. (Name & Council Withheld)
That’s quite a list! Let’s see what we can do here…
Leadership “partial credit” is silliness… Either a Scout holds a leadership position or he doesn’t. When he does, he serves until the next troop election, which is typically annually or semiannually.
It’s literally impossible for a Scoutmaster to claim that a Scout in a leadership position “didn’t do his job,” because the Scoutmaster’s primary responsibility is to coach and train the youth leaders to run their troop, so if the Scouts are accused of having “failed,” it’s actually the Scoutmaster who has failed in his responsibilities to the youth leaders of the troop, and shame on him!
“Counseling” at the end of a Scout’s leadership tenure is an exercise in dumb. It serves no constructive purpose. The counseling happens during the Scout’s tenure.
Yes, as Committee Chair, you can restore sanity to this troop, and one way to begin this process is to immediately give every Scout who held a leadership position—elected or appointed—full credit for his tenure in the position. Enough with this “partial” nonsense.
For the ranks of Star and Life, a “Scoutmaster-assigned leadership project to help the troop” can be used to fulfill the leadership requirement no. 5 (same number for both ranks). To help make this “partial” nonsense go away, I’d give full req. 5 credit to any Scout who planned and had a major speaking role for a troop court of honor.
The Scoutmaster does not have the authority to put qualifications on youth leadership positions (see page 13 of the Scoutmaster Handbook). This is the responsibility of “the troop” and, as we know, “the troop” is THE SCOUTS; not the Scoutmaster. Therefore, if the Patrol Leaders Council believes that, for example, the Senior Patrol Leader should be at least Star rank and at least 13 years old, then that’s what it’ll be! The Scoutmaster can guide this decision, but he doesn’t make it; the youth leaders of the troop make it.
Appointed youth leadership positions are just as important as elected ones (we know which is which, yes?), so that no “special projects” for Librarians, Scribes, Quartermasters, etc. are needed—these Scouts simply need to carry out the responsibilities of their positions.
In addition to the stated qualifications needed to be able to stand for election into the Order of the Arrow (broadly, First Class or higher rank, and 15 days and nights of Scout camping in the past two years) by his fellow Scouts, it’s expected that all eligible Scouts are approved by their Scoutmaster. While approval might possibly be withheld, I’ve never, ever seen this happen, in nearly 40 years of Scouting (and, yes, I’m a member of the Order of the Arrow, having been elected by my fellow Scouts when I was a boy, and I’ve been a member of four different OA lodges).
For how best to divide responsibilities between the committee and Committee Chair, and the Scoutmaster and his assistants, you all would serve yourselves and the young men you’re there to serve by all signing up for training and then going together, as a team!
What do you do when a Cub Scout has more belt loops than waist? (MaryGrace Gagliardi)
Hmm… Time for some double-Slurpies? Bandoliers, maybe? Probably not. I think the only way to go here is for the Cubs to pick the ones they want to wear and leave the others home in their memorabilia boxes. Of course, I’m assuming that they’ve already earned more Arrow Points than belt loops, because the belt loop program is supplemental, and not the main thrust of Cub Scout advancement.
After inspecting our meeting room using the BSA standard form, who gets it and what do we do with it?
Also, our troop committee’s secretary takes notes of meetings and retains them, but what other documents should a unit be retaining, and for how long? I’m thinking of things like copies of our charters, old tour permits, prior inspection reports, bank account documents, old advancement reports, and so on. (Bill Casler, Great Alaska Council)
After you’ve inspected the meeting room/location, share your observations with your chartered organization and then file to form in your unit records.
I’d be tempted to hold on to all charter certificates and advancement records; the rest depends on the extent of the files and the storage space available. Use a “reasonable man” approach and you’re unlikely to go wrong.
According to the various sources, the new positions, Leave No Trace Trainer and Webmaster, qualify for rank advancement. My Life rank son—a total computer nut—has eagerly asked for and has been appointed Webmaster, but when reviewing the new handbook, it’s not listed as an Eagle-qualifying leadership position. Please tell me this is a misprint! (Joe Ceci, Milwaukee County Council, WI)
OK: It’s a misprint.
Seriously, it really is a misprint, and it’ll be corrected in the next printing. If you check the newest Eagle Scout Rank Application, there it is! Breathe easy!
Many of the Scouts, and their parents, too, in my troop aren’t reading or using their handbooks or other available BSA literature, and then they’re claiming, “I didn’t know,” when they mess up things like advancement requirements and so on. I’m considering writing our own “Troop Guidebook,” to eliminate this ongoing problem. Any thoughts? (Gregg Krissinger, SM, Greater Pittsburgh Council, PA)
Yes, I do have a thought… Instead of putting the time and energy into writing some sort of supplemental guidebook (with no assurance that it’ll get any more attention than the BSA books and literature already available), how about going through the Boy Scout Handbook and making a list of specific pages, chapters, and paragraphs that each parent (and son) is to read? This is (a) a lot less work, (b) avoids mis-stating something, (c) gets the message “from the horse’s mouth” through, and (d) maybe encourages parents and Scouts alike to actually read the book some more!
My Boy Scout son, working on Citizenship in the Community merit badge, asked me if he could donate his time to the Girl Scouts (my daughter—his sister—is a Brownie). My first response was, “Ask your Merit Badge Counselor.” But, knowing that this is this particular Counselor’s first go-round with this merit badge, I’m guessing that she may ask my opinion. The requirement states: “Choose a charitable organization outside of Scouting that interests you and brings people in your community together to work for the good of your community.” The issue, of course, hinges on the use of the word, “Scouting”. I’m thinking that the BSA was referring to itself, but I’m not 100% positive of that. What are your thoughts on whether the BSA is including the Girl Scouts in that requirement? (Lincoln Dickerson, Greater Cleveland Council, OH)
Interesting situation… I’d rely on the Merit Badge Counselor’s decision, of course, but I can tell you that this is walking a pretty fine line. Although the BSA and the GSUSA are two separate organizations, there’s no question but that they’re both under the overall “Scouting” umbrella. Moreover, if you consider what this merit badge focuses on—the local community—a reading of req. 7 urges the identification of a local charitable organization (e.g., food bank, Rotary Club, Lion’s Club, Community Chest, PTA or educational foundation, etc., etc.) and then finding out what a young person can do to help… It doesn’t suggest another youth-oriented organization (e.g., Girl Scouts, PAL, Indian Guides/Princesses, etc.). Consequently, my own personal leaning would be more toward something different from what this young man’s already familiar with and away from a largely parallel organization. But that’s my own opinion and is certainly not any sort of “final decree.” In light of his sister’s Brownie involvement, helping the Girl Scouts would probably be a slam-dunk, but we need to ask ourselves: Would operating within an area of familiarity actually “stretch” this young man’s awareness of service beyond the Scouting milieu? (Thanks for posing a very interesting and thought-provoking scenario.)
Our troop has a question about special needs Scouts. We have a young man, with ADHD, who’ll be 18 in two months. He earned his Star rank about five months ago. Since then, he hasn’t done very much with merit badges or other rank-related requirements. We’ve advised him constantly on what he needs to do to advance, and he’s able to complete merit badges without any help. But time is his enemy, especially because he’s planning on getting an extension to work his way to earn Eagle rank. Another parent in the troop has helped his mom fill out the paperwork for him to get an extension, and had it signed by someone in our council, but now we need help on what to do when he’s 18 years old. How do we proceed? What do we do about, for instance, campouts? We know what to do in regular circumstances, but need to know what to do now that he’s applied for an extension to be a “Scout with special needs” (no special physical accommodations needed, just a Scout with ADHD, and some social/emotional issues). Thanks. (Jackie Dannemiller Cascade Pacific Council)
Two thoughts here…
First, we need to recognize that some 95 out of every 100 Scouts historically don’t make it all the way to Eagle, so that there’s absolutely no disgrace at all if this young man ends his Scouting years as a Star or perhaps Life Scout.
That said, if this young man truly wishes to extend the effort needed to go all the way to Eagle, there is an alternate path available to him, so long as a licensed medical practitioner verifies in writing that this young man’s mental challenges are of a permanent nature (refer to the Boy Scout Requirements book for the details of how this is handled). In addition to that letter, from a recognized medical authority, the Scout, his parents, and the troop committee will all work together, in concert with the district advancement committee, to develop a program that both fits his capabilities and yet is still challenging and interesting.
I understand your concern about an 18 year old camping “as a Scout” with is troop, and I’m sure a conversation with your council’s health and safety committee will provide a way to manage this aspect.
I absolutely admire this young man, and appreciate the effort you and others in the troop are extending in order for him to have that “mountaintop experience”!
When it comes to signing off requirements, I’m aware that leaders can sign off on Tenderfoot-through-First Class requirements. Can a PLC member sign off the Star, Life, or Eagle requirements of another Scout, so long as he’s a higher rank than the Scout he’s helping?
Also, in our troop, we have elections, but the new leaders don’t take office until about a month later (this year our elections were held in December and the youth leaders took office on January 1st). Is that OK, or does it somehow conflict with BSA policy? (Matt Urbanek, National Capital Area Council)
It’s up to the Scoutmaster to decide who can sign off on what. Usually, Scoutmasters include their ASMs for most stuff except Scoutmaster’s conferences, which they’d obviously want to reserve for themselves, so they can stay in touch with how well the troop is doing (this comes from getting feedback from the Scouts he conferences with). Very often SPLs and PLs are okayed for approving Scouts’ completions of Tenderfoot through First Class requirements, so long as they’re at least one rank higher than the Scout they’re verifying, and what they do is inform the Scoutmaster that such-and-such a Scout has completed what requirement(s), so that the Scoutmaster can put his initials in the Scout’s handbook (it’s always easier to recognize your own initials, rather than trying to figure out who someone else’s are).
Regarding elections, actually taking office at a meeting several weeks after the actual election is brilliant! This allows time for the Scoutmaster to actually meet with the new leaders in advance, to take them through TLT so that they know their responsibilities, and it also allows time to plan a formal leader induction ceremony, where the outgoing leaders “swear in” the incoming leaders!
Love your columns! I’ve volunteered to be a Unit Commissioner. (I’m only 24; the next youngest UC is about 30, and after him it’s a “55+ club.”) I’ve been assigned to our District Commissioner’s old units: a crew, a troop, and a pack. Needless to say, I’m a little nervous. Do you have any advice? I’ve done FastStart training for UCs, and every other training available online, and I’m going to buy the Commissioner Fieldbook for Unit Service today. I’m also going to go to next month’s Commissioner Basic Training next month. What else should I focus on? (Matt Schmidt, UC, Chickasaw Council, TN)
First “rule” for Unit Commissioners: For the units you serve, you are their best friend. You’re there for them. You help them. You ask to be invited to meetings and you stay low-key and pretend to be wallpaper… You observe and make mental notes. You make very quiet suggestions, but rarely. You answer questions not be providing solutions but by asking, “Hmmm… What do you think would be the best way to solve that situation?” You remain “outside” unit “politics”–always neutral, yet always working for accord and helping everyone share the same vision of Scouting’s “True North.” You don’t have to have “all the answers” but you do promise to find the answers and get back to them, and then you make good on that promise. You’re consistent, and steadfast. You find ways to recognize their volunteers for their contributions (award of merit, quality unit award, and so on). You always smile. You never bad-mouth anyone, and you never, ever bad-mouth the district, the council, or the BSA (you gave up that dubious privilege when you signed on as a Commissioner).
Rule 2: Stay in your own back yard.
Thank you for your guidance and continued service to Scouting.
Our troop is having some issues… Our Scoutmaster is a good man and Scouter, but he’s not very organized or authoritative. The problem lies with a couple of the ASMs. One ASM has been a catalyst and big helper with his time and resources, to help the troop grow over the last year, and we’ll grow by another almost third with the new Webelos about to cross over. However, instead of training the Troop Guides for the new Scout patrols, he wants to take on this role himself, and doesn’t want to recruit any new parents for new ASM positions. Our other ASM, who has been mostly uninvolved for the past year, now has assumed a self-appointed role of “troop boss,” and, among other things, he’s much too rigid for any new Scouts to handle, and I’m afraid that, because of this, we’ll be losing some these new Scouts, either from the troop or completely out of Scouting. Before I try to “teach pigs to fly” (sorry for borrowing), I’d appreciate any guidance for both of these ASMs. (Name & Council Withheld)
It’s absolutely critical to the success of this (or any!) troop that all of the adult volunteers share the same vision and leave their egos and personal agendas at the door. There’s simply no place in Scouting for mavericks, troublemakers, folks who think they’re “masters-of-the-scouts,” or folks who want to reorganize a troop’s standard structure to fit their own personal goals. Despite any good intentions, which I’m sure must be present at some level, if somebody’s getting in the way of delivering the Boy Scout program the way it’s written to be delivered, then they need to either get trained and get on the right tracks, or they need to be removed.
Because the BSA is a volunteer organization and not an employer of these folks, employment laws and labor laws don’t apply. All that needs to be said to the volunteer who proves incapable or steadfastly unwilling to get it right is, “Thanks for your services; they won’t be needed any further.” That’s it.
This message is delivered by the Chartered Organization Representative together with the Committee Chair, and if we’re talking about ASMs, then with the Scoutmaster, too. After the message has been delivered, then one of these folks contacts the council’s registrar and asks that the person’s record be removed from the troop roster (this is done ASAP, of course).
The next step is to replace these folks with people who have expressed interest in helping and are willing to attend training (training’s going to be mandatory very shortly, anyway, so this is not really an unreasonable request by the troop), put on a uniform (if a SM or an ASM), and start delivering the program as written.
Think of it this way… Suppose your son’s school told you, his parent, that his teachers will be untrained and will be delivering subject matter any way they want to, regardless of curriculum standards or behavioral protocols. Would you stand for this? Probably not. So then, why would you accept this in a program that’s supposed to be educating your son in citizenship, self-worth, competence, and resourcefulness? Well of course you wouldn’t! And that’s what it’s about: Your son deserves the best according to established national standards and not what some rogues decide they want to do.
The First Class requirement for swimming indicates that a Scout must pass the BSA swimming test. I’ve looked for the requirements for this test and can’t find anything that tells me exactly what they are. Can you help me? (Bob Lamparter, ASM, Suffolk County Council, LI, NY)
The requirements for the Second Class swim test and the First Class swim test are in the handbook and also in the Boy Scout Requirements book.
I have a question about headwear. My Cub Scouts are required to wear the BSA standard uniform rank-specific ball cap. I tell them it’s part of their uniform and they should wear it both outdoors and indoors, but if they’re in the sanctuary of a church, or in someone’s home, they should show respect and remove their hats. (I follow the same rules and expect my Den Leaders to do so, also.) Recently, we had our Blue & Gold Banquet in the local high school cafeteria. One of my leaders remarked that we really shouldn’t be wearing our hats indoors. I’ve always explained it’s not a hat or cap—it’s a “uniform cover. But, I thought I’d ask: What are the accepted norms for Scouts and Scouters regarding uniform headwear? (Bobby Taylor, CM, Bay Area Council, TX)
Cap, hat, headgear, headwear, cover, or whatever you want to call that thing-a-ma-bob on yer head, we take ’em off indoors, whether we’re Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, military, law enforcement, or Indian chiefs. The only time a Scout would wear a cap/hat/headgear indoors is if he’s a member of a special ceremonial team (e.g., a color guard) and even then the wearing of anything on the head (for the ceremony only) is optional, not mandatory.
Go here—www.bsa.scouting.org/About/AnnualReports/02nation.aspx—and tell me how many thing-a-ma-bobs you see.
What are the rules and/or limitations on donations and fundraising for Eagle projects? Can the Scouts solicit donations? Can the Scouts sell, for instance, hoagies, or anything else, to defray project costs? And, if it’s OK, where should the collected money be deposited? (Al Edelman, SM, Minsi Trails Council, PA)
Good question. First, let’s recognize that not all Eagle candidates’ projects require supplies, and so none to very little money may actually be needed (a project doesn’t necessarily require constructing or painting anything, as the project workbook makes clear). Second, it’s not at all unusual for the recipient of the services of the Scout and his helpers to provide, at their expense, whatever supplies or equipment may be needed, again eliminating the need for money to do the project (except for perhaps food and drinks for the helpers, which would be a modest cost, at best). However, if supplies and equipment are not forthcoming from the recipient, then the next step for the Scout would be to solicit what he might need to do the project, and this can be in the form of direct requests from suppliers and retailers (e.g., lumber and hardware sellers), so, still, no actual money needed. However, if money is indeed needed, there are still options. The Scout, for instance, can spend his own money, if he wishes. Or, he can request funding from businesses supportive of Scouting in his town (local Rotary Clubs, the sponsor, local churches, etc.). Finally, he can do a fund-raising event of some sort, to raise what he needs, and this can be a car wash or something similar, or it can be selling something and retaining the excess revenues after expenses. Selling self-prepared food might be tricky, and it’s worth finding out if a health inspection is required by the town or county. The Scout can be creative, but the “reasonable man” approach should prevail.
As far as where to deposit the funds raised (by whatever means), the best bet is the troop’s checking account, with the troop treasurer keeping track of the funds and their designation and ultimate destination. For this, the troop would use the 501(c)(3) designation of its sponsor or, in the absence of this, the designation (and number) of the local council (ask the council’s accounting department for this, on behalf of the Scout).
Thanks! In the most current situation, the Scout is considering building dugouts for a local park that has a baseball field. He has a commitment for 50 percent of the costs involved coming from the benefitting organization, but my concern is that the un-funded balance is a significant sum of money and this Scout may come up short. I’m watching and guiding him he gets closer to committing to this project, to be sure he’s not bitten off more than he can chew, financially. (The work’s do-able; it’s the cost that’s the problem.) (Al Edelman)
How about this: The Scout can determine from the recipient organization exactly how much funding they’ll provide, and then he builds his scope-of-work and plans around that dollar amount (and no more). Scouts aren’t expected to underwrite “capital improvement” projects—we are a “charitable organization,” for goodness sakes!
Our pack’s deep into the Pinewood Derby season now and the Cubs are ready to race. Over the past several years, we’ve tried to provide clearly defined rules for building the car and for running a fair race. Electronic score-keeping software and uniform track manufacturers have helped significantly increase the equality of the racing field.
Unfortunately, the sponsors of our district race this year have taken the liberty of writing their own rules, which will call for frequent rulings on determining whether or not a car is “legal,” either before or during the race. In these cases, the core of Scouting looses because the district rules are so loosely written.
How can the BSA National Council be persuaded to adopt “universal” rules and regulations, so that Pinewood Derby races can be uniform and standardized across all packs (and districts, too)? This race has been the highlight of probably every Cub Scout for nearly 60 years. As we celebrate 100 years of Scouting (and 80 of Cub Scouting), we marvel at both the differences and the similarities between Scouting of yesterday and today. From the inception, there has been a belief to make rank and class requirements published in handbooks so all Scouts everywhere will follow them. In fact, this is what makes Scouting so popular around the world—every scout knows that he achieved his ranks by completing the same requirements as every other Scout did in his country. Competition in sports and academics in our society has taken on new meanings when stories abound of judges paid off, use of steroids among players, engines bored out, professional training, and so on. Competitive Scouting should be different than that of non-Scouters. We should enjoy fair and friendly competition, doing our best, to help other people and obey the laws of the pack. (Channing Hardy, South-Central Indiana)
Of course, you and others can write to the national office, making a request for nationally uniform PD rules, and I wish you all the best in this endeavor. However, this won’t solve your district problem anytime soon. My recommendation is this: Get yourselves on the district pinewood derby committee and get things fixed, right there and then.
We’ve got a Tiger Cub in our pack who has a mild case of Autism. Neat kid, doing OK, but his doctors have recommended that he have a “therapy dog” to help him when he gets overly excited or stimulated. We’re going to use this as a teaching opportunity for the Cubs, which dovetails nicely with the Police Canine Officer who came to a recent pack meeting. We’re going to give this boy’s dog a special Cub Scout vest—we’re thinking about putting the unit numbers on the vest, and even an Assistant Den Leader badge. Then, when this Cub earns a rank, we’re going to get his dog a rank badge, too, and sew it on his vest (after all, they’re a team!). Plus, when he and his dog go on an outing or other pack activity, his dog’s going to get patches for these, too (the dog’s supposed to be with him 24/7). Yes, I realize that the BSA probably doesn’t want us using patches this way, but I can’t think of a reason not to, as a way to help this boy. (Carl Sommer, CM, Occoneechee Council, NC)
Wonderful! Consider a neckerchief (no slide—just a simple, single overhand knot instead) for the pooch, too! Fabulous way to “main-stream” a special needs situation boy!
You mentioned a while ago, in one of your columns, that only Arkansas was “missing” as a state where your columns are read. Well, greetings from Arkansas! Just want you to know that you have at least one reader from the fine state of Arkansas. (Jeff McFarland, CM, Ouachita Area Council)
Thanks! Your letter confirms all 50 states and 305 councils!
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