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Issue 352 – April 15, 2013

Dear Andy,

How do I get my den’s parents to understand the importance of turning in a Health & Medical Form for themselves and their sons for den and pack outings? I’ve stopped planning outings because I’m not sure who would pay if somebody got hurt or forgot their medicine, or needed away-from-home treatment. Also, how do I stress the importance of den dues (it’s only 75 cents a week, and pays their yearly fees plus awards, patches, etc.)? I’m tired of paying out of my own pocket for these. (Name & Council Withheld)

Begin by never, ever paying out of your own pocket. This only leads to anger, frustration, and resentment on your part and “no skin in the game” on their part.

No Health & Medical form? Simple: Don’t let the parents drive away, leaving their son with you, unless they hand you this form. If they don’t, they get to take their son home. No “second chances,” no “We forgot it—we’ll bring it next time,” no more baloney. They have it and give it to the outing leader or they take little Fargus home with them.

No den dues? Same thing: Take little Fargus home right now—bring him back when you have the money. End of story.

These people are testing (consciously or otherwise) to see how far you and the other volunteers in your pack can be pushed. Right now, they’re on top. Time for a game-changer that puts you, not them, in the catbird seat.
Hi Andy,

I’m a relatively new troop Committee Chair. When I took the position, we decided to review the troop’s bylaws. There are some clauses in our bylaws that appear more restrictive than the BSA’s national policies. For instance, the troop requires more adults on trips, a minimum number of trained adults, and so forth. The troop also has set a limit on the number of Scouts allowed in the troop—something I don’t see any national policy on. Does the BSA allow troop to institute bylaws that are different from bylaws spelled out on the national BSA website? (Glen D\’Abate, CC, Old Colony Council, MA)

As I understand it (double-check with your Commissioner or District Executive) the only time a council, district, or unit rule can supersede a national policy is in the specific area of safety.

This would apply to the number of adults on a troop outing, but accompanying this should be a stipulation that—except for the Scoutmaster and perhaps an ASM—all adults stay away from the Scouts. The purpose of the second stipulation is to keep outings Scout-to-Scout events and not “Dad n’ Lad” events. (Neither Dad n’ Lad or Mom-and-Me is the purpose of Boy Scouting. If folks want that, then they can go on outings as a family and allow Boy Scouting to function as it’s supposed to.)

Regarding training, the BSA encourages all registered adult volunteers to take training at least through position-specific training, and there’s absolutely nothing out of order in a troop insisting that all registered adults do this. The BSA does stipulate, BTW, that all registered adults at the very least must—repeat: must—be current with Youth Protection Training.

As for setting a limit on the number of Scouts in the troop, this may or may not be reasonable. To simply set an arbitrary numeric limit on youth would seem to be a mistake.

However, if the intent is to not overburden the Scoutmaster—who is expected to conduct all Scoutmaster conferences, collaborate with all Scouts on their merit badge selections, and coach and train all youth leaders in the troop—then it’s not unreasonable to set an upper limit. If this isn’t done, then the Scoutmaster is tempted to delegate the three key responsibilities I’ve just mentioned to Assistant Scoutmasters or committee members, or others, resulting in a dilution of the Scoutmaster’s effectiveness and the end-result of diluting the Boy Scout experience for all Scouts.

Perhaps the reason has to do with some sort of municipal code that prohibits more than a specific number of people at the troop’s meeting place. But the solution to this may be to limit the number of adults, so as to accommodate as many youth as possible, or consider changing venues. (Committee members and random parents don’t need to fill up space in the meeting room—committee meetings can be in another room, or on a different night, or even in someone’s home.)
Dear Andy,

My son has recently been suspended from his troop for six months. He is a Life Scout. The meeting we recently attended was the first we heard of any problems he was having (apparently with one specific leader). There was no formal process involved, nor was there any type of behavior modification plan put in place. I’m looking for any disciplinary guidelines from the BSA and can’t seem to find them. There have been kids who have brought tobacco, lighters, weapons, etc to campouts and nothing was done about that. We believe the troop has not followed proper protocol. My son is 15, a straight A student, and a very good Scout. We believe this is an unfair punishment for his alleged “lack of respect” toward one particular leader. No examples were cited, nor specific times and dates provided. Can you please direct me to information regarding discipline, suspensions, appeals, etc? (Name & Council Withheld)

Take this straight to the Scout Executive of your council. Yes, a Scout may be removed from a troop and/or its activities if he has exhibited behavior that has been or has the potential to be physically injurious to himself or others. However, short of that, “suspension” is not only excessively harsh but hugely counterproductive. Of course, I’m operating here with no hard facts of any sort. Bring the exact facts to the Scout Executive and request a reinstatement of your son. If that fails, consider immediately transferring him to a more youth-friendly and youth-understanding troop, but be fully prepared to describe precisely why this transfer is being sought.
Dear Andy,

Do you have any plans for how to build a belt loop display case? This was suggested by one of the dads and I thought it could be a great den project if I knew the material, steps. etc. (Steve Jacobson)

Belt loops are designed to be worn on the Cub Scout belt and then put away in the “memories box” when the boy becomes a Boy Scout.
Dear Andy,

I need a little light shed on the merit badge program and blue cards. I’ve looked into this and get conflicting information. Our Committee Chair’s stance is that a blue card must be signed by the Scoutmaster before any work can be started on a merit badge. However, I see lots of things on the internet about how Scouts are using past experience (before a blue card was signed) to qualify for merit badges. Doesn’t this count as working on a merit badge before the blue card is signed? Also, our local council person told me—using Camping merit badge as an example—that a signed blue card was not needed. Can you help clarify this? Can a Scout begin working on a merit badge before he gets a blue card signed? (Chris Bonsall)

Well-meaning though he likely is trying to be, the CC is incorrect. Scouts can definitely receive credit for work accomplished prior to obtaining a “blue card.” All it takes is a conversation with the appropriate Merit Badge Counselor. Moreover, no unit, district, council, or individual has the authority to supersede BSA national policies regarding requirements for merit badges or ranks, or the advancement program itself–and that’s a BSA policy, too. Need to see this in writing? Just turn to page 20 in the book, BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS.
Dear Andy,

Are the final dispositions of award nomination packages that go to the national BSA office or national BSA Court of Honor for consideration and possible approval ever communicated back to the submitting council, district, or unit? Is there a tracking mechanism available for unit- or district-level leadership for unit and personal awards that ultimately end up at the BSA national office, or does the burden to track and get status updates fall to a lone and often overburdened council employee?

I’m asking because we have a Cub Scout who was nominated for a meritorious action/life-saving award. The package was endorsed by our council and sent to the BSA national office almost two years ago. My council representative and I have been trying to get a status update from the BSA for several months, but the only response we get is that the national court of honor only meets once a year to consider such awards.

In talking with other Scouters who have submitted these types of award nominations in the past, the trend I’m seeing is that units are never notified one way or the other on the final disposition of an award nomination package, and in many cases the nomination is forgotten about after it’s submitted, due to the continuous turnover of leadership.

I’m still trying to get some closure on this particular case for my Cub Scout and all parties affected by his actions—He’s a military child whose family is getting transferred overseas in just a few months. (Ben Ringvelski, DL, Heart of America Council)

Thanks for taking the time to write. Your question’s “above my pay-grade” so O passed it along to the right person at the BSA National Office, and here’s the response…

“I’m sorry for the problems you are experiencing. However, you are definitely getting incorrect information. I am the staff advisor to the National Court of Honor so can tell you that when we get a nomination in from a council, we first log it into the system. Then, if it contains all the needed information, it immediately is reviewed by the National Court of Honor. That process usually takes less than 48 hours. Then it goes into the finish process system.

“If there is something missing from the council—such as a photo—then we communicate that need to the council and note that communication in the nominee’s file. If we do not hear from the council, then we send reminders every three months for a full year.

“At some point in the future I hope we will be able to have a system where a council can check on the status of pending nominations, but we don’t have that at present. However, a council can call our administrator at any time to check on that. Our administrator keeps detailed records and can look any record up almost instantly.

“I would ask your council to ask again or they can contact me directly. We’ll certainly get to the bottom of this.”
Hi Andy,

My son took Kayaking at summer camp about four summers ago. At that time, although he received a certification, Kayaking wasn’t yet a merit badge. It now is. Does that experience “grandfather” him in, or do you know what requirements were fulfilled for the new merit badge? (Regina McGuire)

First, let’s understand that Boy Scouting is all about self-actualization and self-determination. This means that it’s better for your son to go to his Scoutmaster, get the name and contact information for a Kayaking Merit Badge Counselor, and go meet with that counselor and talk out what he’s done and how closely these align with the merit badge requirements. This way, if there’s anything remaining to be done to earn the merit badge, your son has a “coach” who can help him through the rest! And, if the happy circumstance is that he’s done all that’s needed, he gets a signature!
Dear Andy,

Our troop has a couple of Eagle Scouts who just turned 18 and would like to sign up as adult volunteers. If they register as “U92” (Unit College Scouter Reserve) members, can they sit on boards of review? (I couldn’t get a definitive answer from my local council office.) (Marc Goldfarb, advancement coordinator, Greater Cleveland Council, OH)

Here’s the BSA policy: For all ranks except Eagle, reviewers must be registered members of the unit’s committee, or—in very rare and exceptional situations—qualified parents of Scouts. These young men don’t fit either category. Sorry!
Hi Andy,

We’re a troop in Alaska. Can our Scouts count snowshoeing or cross country skiing towards the requirements for the Backpacking or Hiking merit badges? The idea would be to spend one of the 15-mile/3-day backpacking trips in this manner, for which they’d build a sled poke and tow their gear. The only thing I could find in the Hiking merit badge pamphlet was the following statement on page 15: “To travel across snow that is too deep and soft to support your weight, you may need snowshoes or cross-country skis. If you are on foot, try to avoid established trails used by cross-country skiers and snow-shoers. Deep footprints punched into the snow can make it more difficult for those on snowshoes or skis to fully enjoy their sport.”

Here in the northern part of Alaska we have snow on the ground for nine months of the year, and when it melts the water stays on top of the ground due to the permafrost, which extends down into the ground almost 2.000 feet in some places, and that means you’re constantly hiking in several inches of water.

So what do you think? Can they hike and backpack with snowshoes and x-country skis? (Bill Casler, Great Alaska Council)

You’re right. The requirements of both merit badges are silent on foot gear except that it should be suited to the terrain. So, I’d think that “suitable to snow, permafrost, etc.” could certainly include snowshoes and/or Nordic skis! However, this is something these Scouts should discuss up-front with their registered Merit Badge Counselors, so there are no nasty surprises at the back end! ________________________________________
Dear Andy,

My son and two other Scouts in his troop are planning their Eagle Scout ceremony, and I’m drafting a letter to send to local, state, and country dignitaries inviting them to attend. I’d like to include in the distribution list someone from the BSA National Council. Can you provide me with the name and snail-mail address of the person to whom this invitation should be sent? (Kathy Hall)

Each year, somewhere north of 50 thousand Scouts earn Eagle. The BSA national office just doesn’t have a budget for sending employees to these courts of honor, much as this might be a nice idea. Besides, these people have no special meaning to the Scout himself. Better to invite grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, and local Scouting volunteers (special Merit Badge Counselors, the local District Chair and key Commissioners, etc.) who have helped make a difference in your son’s life. And yes, include clergy as appropriate, and teachers and principals too.

Happy Scouting!


Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to Please include your name and council. (If you’d prefer to be anonymous, if published, let me know and that’s what we’ll do.)

[No. 352 – 4/15/2013 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2013]


About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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