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Issue 359 – July 5, 2013

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If you’re going to be at the NATIONAL JAMBOREE, stop by the NESA exhibit tent at the Summit Center’s Legacy Village. I’ll be there on Monday or Tuesday, July 22-23, for short talks and some quality Q&A time with you!
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Dear Andy,

As the Committee Chair of our troop, it’s bought to my attention, after every meeting for the past six months, that we have two Scouts who are constantly disrespectful to their Patrol Leaders, our Senior Patrol Leader, and our Scoutmaster and his assistants. These two Scouts simply refuse to listen, and, when corrected, they go into “meltdown” and even actually pick fights. They either spend their time goofing around or actually hitting each other, and other Scouts as well, and when they’re asked to stop they shout back at whoever asked them to settle down.

I’ve sat in on several troop meetings and have personally seen these behaviors. One of these two uses foul language and then, when asked to call home, he starts crying because, he says, his mother won’t come and pick him up. On one occasion—an overnight campout—our Scoutmaster did need to call this boy’s mother, and neither of her phones was answered, even after multiple calls.

Our other Scouts are very unhappy with this ongoing situation, especially since there seems to be no letup or cure for it. The Scoutmaster has spoken with both sets of parents, but the only result of this is that the boys’ behavior got worse. To top it off, the parents of these two boys are complaining to us because their sons claim that they’re being “bullied” by the other Scouts!

The Scoutmaster and I have had conferences with the other Scouts in the troop about the “bullying” claims and we’ve confirmed that this absolutely hasn’t happened. In fact, it’s the other way around: These two argue about everything, from the rules for games to menu-planning for campouts, and the list goes on. We’re at a point where the other Scouts are quite literally afraid of these two and are now beginning to ditch meetings rather than endure one confrontation after another with these two boys

I’m a teacher, and I’ve certainly seen my share of behavior like this in a school setting, but I have school counselors and social workers as backup. But we obviously don’t have these resources available to us in the troop. The challenge, of course, is: How do we mentor, model, and guide our Scouts in make good ethical and behavioral decisions when we have these two, with not even parental backup, week after week?

Our Scoutmaster is documenting all the incidences, and I’ve read that the committee and Scoutmaster should sit down with each individual Scout, with his parents, and work out a solution. But at this point I fear that this will only get very personal and accusatory on their part. Yet, if we don’t find a solution, we’re going to ultimately lose a troop of pretty good Scouts who just don’t want to tolerate this any longer (and I wouldn’t blame them). Is there a BSA policy or procedure that might help us here? (Name & Council Withheld)

It’s a pretty scary thing when two early- or even pre-teen boys can hold an entire troop—including its adult volunteers—hostage!

(It seems pretty apparent that [a] their parents are in denial, [b] the boys learned these behaviors from their parents, [c] their parents are non-supportive of what you all are contending with or trying to accomplish, or [d] all of these. Consequently, any conference with them is unlikely to succeed. However, it must be done, and the conversation memorialized—so that it doesn’t return in even uglier ways.)

The bottom line, of course, is that you’ve got it right—you all aren’t professional therapists or professional youth counselors—you’re volunteers. As such, you have the right to state that a boy cannot be retained as a troop member when you are unequipped to deal with his outbursts. You also have the clear obligation to protect and defend the other Scouts of the troop who are becoming the victims of the boy with behavioral issues.

For a situation such as you’ve described, the BSA is clear on the course of action to take. Refer to the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK, page 129 (this is a partial quote—the complete one is in the book): “A boy who continually disrupts meetings or whose actions endanger himself or others…should be sent home,” and “Discipline problems that might lead to a boy’s permanent removal from the troop should be handled by the Scoutmaster and the troop committee and should always involve the boy’s parents or guardian.”

In short, when one or more boys habitually strikes others and/or refuses to cooperate with his Patrol Leader and other youth and adult leaders, for the safety of other Scouts in the troop he must be removed. This can be for a temporary period of time, with the understanding that he is welcome back into the troop when he is able to demonstrate that he can keep his emotions (and fists) within due bounds. If, upon his eventual return, it is clear that he has corrected his attitude and behaviors, he’s welcome to continue in the Scouting program. If he remains unable to do this, then he must be removed permanently, so as to protect the other Scouts of the troop from verbal abuse and physical harm.

Yes, I get it that some folks may think these two boys need Scouting more than the “good” Scouts in the troop, and I’d normally agree. But when you have a situation that lacks both repentance and reformation, the choice remaining is to protect the troop.

Waste no time. The longer this persists the greater the danger to the Scouts as well as to the troop as a whole.

Oh, one more thing… If these two boys happened to be signed up to go to summer camp with the troop, cancel them immediately (or risk a pretty much guaranteed miserable experience for everyone—including these two).
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Dear Andy,

I really need some information… The GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT states that boards of review should be done monthly, at least. Since Scouting is a year-round program, it’s logical that Scout should have the opportunity to advance during the summer as well as during the “school year” period. Our troop’s committee chair and members are more than willing to hold boards of review in both July and August, but the Scoutmaster doesn’t want to conduct rank-related conferences in either month; his attitude is, “The Scouts can wait till September to advance.” What’s your take on this? (Name & Council Withheld)

My “take” on a Scoutmaster blocking or stalling any Scout’s advancement is that he needs to be grabbed by the shoulders and have this nonsense shaken out of him. This is one of his two most important responsibilities, for goodness sakes! If that doesn’t work, replace him.

If you can’t shake him loose of his misunderstanding of what he’s supposed to be doing, and you can’t replace him, and you have a son in this troop, GET YOUR SON OUT and into a troop where the Scoutmaster and other volunteers know what their covenant is, and live it.

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Dear Andy,

My son and his troop has just returned from summer camp. While there, certain merit badge requirements were truncated—what we’d normally call “incomplete” or “partial.” I took these incompletes to the camp’s Program Director, showing him which requirements were completed and which weren’t, but when we received the report at the end of the week, all of our Scouts who were in these classes received the merit badge—not a partial. In other cases, particularly those which required something to be done over a period of time (e.g., 30 days), these were also signed off as “completed.”

You’ve often said that if there’s a problem with a particular Merit Badge Counselor, he or she should be brought to the attention of the district advancement person. In this case, it’s our council’s summer camp, and it’s quite rampant. .

Now, our Scouts have figured out that if you take the more difficult Eagle-required merit badges (First Aid, Emergency Preparedness, Camping, and the three Citizenships) at summer camp, it’s easier because you won’t have to do all the requirements! So now we have Scouts “earning” Eagle-required merit badge in just a few hours!

As a non-camp (i.e., “home”) Merit Badge Counselor, I’m finding that summer camp has set an expectation in the Scouts’ minds for how a merit badge gotten. Now, when I ask them to do all of the requirements and not just a select easy few, they argue about having to do “all that work.” I’ve even overheard Scouts say or one another, “Get that one at camp—it’ll be easier.” Now, I have parents fighting with me, insisting that, since their son “sat through the class,” he should get the badge!

Based on letters in your columns, and your replies, I’m not the only adult volunteer seeing this go on. I’ve spoken to others and they just shake their heads and say there’s nothing that we can do about it.

It seems to me that this problem will never be fixed at the local unit and district levels so long as councils continue to set in appropriate “standards” for their summer camps. Why are so many councils allowing this? Why isn’t this being addressed by the BSA’s National Office? (Name & Council Withheld)

I understand and appreciate your frustration…and anger. Both are warranted.

Yes, if a Scout has been told by a registered Merit Badge Counselor that he’s earned the merit badge, it’s his and a volunteer or unit would be “punishing” or “penalizing” the wrong person for the errors of adults—something we don’t do in Scouting.

That said, there are definitely actions you can take when you witness misuse of the BSA Merit Badge Program—whether at a summer camp or even at home with an individual Merit Badge Counselor.

In the case of a council’s summer camp, after you’ve developed a clear and objective, specific and detailed, account of the infraction you will report it to all of these three people: (1) the Camp Director, (2) the camp’s Program Director, and (3) the Council (not district) Advancement Chair. It is then up to these three people to investigate further and institute policies and practices that rectify whatever errors of procedure or principle are being made. Once you’ve notified these three key people, you’ve done your job and done it well. If, following this, or concurrent with it, you engage in conversations with other volunteers who have witnessed the same or similar problems, encourage them to follow the same procedure.

For home Merit Badge Counselors (which, for reasons unknown, can sometimes be as wayward as those sometimes found at camps), the key contact person is, as you’d expect, the Council (not district) Advancement Chair.

Thanks for taking the time to write. While no one expects you to be a “watchdog,” when you do spot something that doesn’t follow BSA advancement policies, procedures, or requirements, there is definitely a pathway to follow that will help Scouts. In the meanwhile, don’t think for even a moment that the BSA National Advancement Committee isn’t aware of indiscretions such as you’ve described, and isn’t working hard to strengthen and standardize the Merit Badge Program delivery system.
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Hello Andy,

I’m searching for information on the requirements or qualifications, training, and BSA national camp policy for Camp Commissioners. What I’ve found so far are various non-national BSA requirements, recommended training, and National Camping School training for Camp Commissioners. Are Camp Commissioners required for BSA summer camps, or are they in the “nice to have but not mandatory” category? I recently received a message from one of my Unit Commissioners describing how, while he happened to be at camp the day before the Visitation Team was to arrive, he was asked to assume the position of Camp Commissioner (for the day?). I didn’t think it was a policy to have a Camp Commissioner on staff. Can you help? (Bill Yoder, DC, Central Florida Council)

Although I’ve been a Camp Visitation Team Leader for no less than five years, I don’t happen to have the 2013 BSA Standards handy. Your best bet for an answer is to call your council’s Camp Director, or your council’s Camping Committee Chair. ________________________________________
Dear Andy,

Can you tell me when the BSA’s per-Scout insurance fees went from $1.00 to $2.00? I can’t find any information on any BSA or “official” or even related “unofficial” website. Some seven months ago, I turned in or rechartering documents and nothing was ever mentioned about the rate increase (the only increase we were aware of is the rechartering fee, which went from $20.00 to $40.00). But then, when we received charter packet back from the council office (seven months late, mind you!), there it was: a 100% increase. I am so annoyed with the lack of communication at the council level! They’re always there when it’s annual fundraising time, but fail miserably when it comes to administrative items—like rate increases. Do you know if there are any registration increases in the near future? Our unit committee will be meeting in a few weeks to create next year’s budget, so we really need this information. Name & Council Withheld)

I can understand your frustration. This may be a case where email (if you happened to use that method) probably may not be the best way to get an answer, because most BSA council service centers are simply overwhelmed with emails 24/7 and it’s incredibly easy to get lost in the electronic hairball! Your very best bet is to place a phone call to your local council’s accounting department, or registrar. These are generally good people—often volunteers themselves, just like you and me—and they’re there to help if you give ‘em a chance!
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Dear Andy,

My son and I have been looking at the National Outdoor Badges and Award. This is intense and seems a worthy goal; however, crunching the numbers, I’m not sure how it’s possible to achieve if almost everything must be done “under the auspices of the BSA.” We just don’t know exactly what that means. I know of no troops in our area that have an aggressive enough program to allow earning the camping badge with a silver device in the seven Boy Scout years available—that’s 125 camping nights in blocks of 25 that can include five resident nights. So, assuming five summer camp weeks, that leaves 100 short-term nights in seven years, or 14.29 nights per year. That translates into eight short-term camp-outs each year, none of which can be in a cabin, and no cancelations. I realize that there are few troops (or parents) that would allow camping in winter conditions.

Similar with the riding component. The Cycling merit badge plus the 100 miles does not require a escort on the distance rides, but there’s at least 300 miles that must be completed “under the auspices of the BSA” for two gold devices. How on earth can a Scout find a troop that’s going to schedule that many miles, and camp, and hike and backpack, and canoe, etc., to these kinds of levels?

I can see this working if a Scout plans a ride, gets the ride approved by his Scoutmaster, and then invites whoever wants to come along. But what if he’s the only one who wants to ride 25 miles every few weekends when the weather allows? Certainly, he could provide a GPS track and photos as evidence, I supposed. But it’s very daunting.

Webster defines “auspices” as: “Kindly patronage and guidance (e.g., doing research under the auspices of the local historical society).” To me, that just means approval, it doesn’t have to be a part of the troop or patrol program, or under visual supervision, but what counts is how the BSA defines it. Could, for instance, a registered leader go with his son (if no one else wants to go) and it still fits the requirement?

This award is also an excellent exercise in record-keeping, but if it’s mathematically impossible to achieve, why bother? Plus, my calculations predict that a Scout wouldn’t have completed the requirements until he’s right on top of his 18th birthday—this means he’d never get to wear it!

I have absolutely no issue with the time and distance requirements—I think they’re great! It’s just how to achieve them. As the scouting.org website states, this award isn’t for every Scout. But shouldn’t the requirements allow every Scout who wants to achieve it the opportunity to do so? Any guidance would be greatly appreciated. (Jonathan Rigden, Greater St. Louis Area Council, MO)

The phrase that seems to be giving you trouble simply means it’s a Boy Scout event; not a “family” event or “borrowed” from when your son was a Cub or Webelos Scout. It also means—read the requirements again—that the long-term resident camping module can’t be at a private camp, dude ranch, Y camp, religious camp, etc.—It’s to be at a BSA camp (e.g., council camp, National Jamboree, Philmont, etc.).

Yes, the requirements are rigorous. Heck, why bother with them if they’re no-brainers! So let’s not forget that a “troop” isn’t the essential unit of Boy Scouting—It’s the PATROL. Then, let’s remember that patrols can go on hikes and even camp overnight. And patrols can go cycling, too.

Additionally regarding your calculations: The primary modules aren’t as overwhelmingly rigorous as you seem to think they are. The Camping Badge, for example, requires 25 days and nights of camping (including six at a resident camp); not 125, and not in addition to those for either First Class rank or Camping merit badge. The Hiking Badge, for a second example, ask for a total of 100 miles of hiking or backpacking, including the 70 completed for Hiking merit badge. Where you seem to be getting hung up is the arbitrary inclusion of the requirements for the gold and silver devices. Instead of lumping these in as if they’re primary requirements, think of them in the same way that a Scout considers Eagle palms—that is, they’re over and above, and completely optional depending on the Scout’s own interests.

So, my overall advice is this: Relax, take a deep breath, don’t show your calculations to your son, and—most important—allow your son to set his own goals and his own plan for achieving them.

Happy Scouting!

Andy

Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to askandybsa@yahoo.com. 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. 359 – 7/5/2013 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2013]

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About AskAndy

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

Andy 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: 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 & Cliff Dochterman Awards, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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