NEW YORK -- The Boy Scouts of America will admit girls into the Cub Scouts starting next year and establish a new program for older girls based on the Boy Scout curriculum that enables them to aspire to the coveted Eagle Scout rank.
Founded in 1910 and long considered a bastion of tradition, the Boy Scouts has undergone major changes in the past five years, agreeing to accept openly gay youth members and adult volunteers, as well as transgender boys.
The expansion of girls' participation was announced Wednesday after unanimous approval by the organization's board of directors.
The Girl Scouts of the USA, which had sought unsuccessfully to dissuade the Boys Scouts from making the move, said they remained committed to their single-sex mission.
"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," the Girl Scouts said in a statement.
Many Scouting organizations in other countries already allow both sexes and use gender-free names such as Scouts Canada. But for now, the Boy Scout label will remain.
"There are no plans to change our name at this time," spokesman Effie Delimarkos said in an email.
Under the new plan, Cub Scout dens -- the smallest unit -- will be single-sex, either all-boys or all-girls. The larger Cub Scout packs will have the option to remain single sex or welcome both sexes. The program for older girls is expected to start in 2019 and will enable girls to earn the same Eagle Scout rank that has been attained by male astronauts, admirals, senators and other luminaries.
Boy Scout leaders said the change was needed to provide more options for parents.
"The values of Scouting -- trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example -- are important for both young men and women," said Michael Surbaugh, chief scout executive.
Randall Stephenson, the group's national board chairman, added: "I've seen nothing that develops leadership skills and discipline like this organization. It is time to make these outstanding leadership development programs available to girls."
The announcement follows many months of outreach by the Boy Scouts of America, which distributed videos and held meetings to discuss the possibility of expanding girls' participation beyond existing programs, such as Venturing, Exploring and Sea Scouts.
Surveys conducted by the Boy Scouts showed strong support for the change among parents not currently connected to the Scouts, including Hispanic and Asian families that the organization has been trying to attract. Among families already in the Scouting community, the biggest worry, according to Surbaugh, was that the positive aspects of single-sex comradeship might be jeopardized.
"We'll make sure those environments are protected," he said.
During the outreach, some parents expressed concern about possible problems related to overnight camping trips. Surbaugh said there would continue to be a ban on mixed-sex overnight outings for Scouts ages 11-14. Cub Scout camping trips, he noted, were usually family affairs with less need for rigid policies.
In Arkansas, the move to include girls has been met with a surprising amount of support, said John Carman, chief executive of the Quapaw Area Council, the Boy Scout division covering 39 of Arkansas' 75 counties.
Carman met this year with more than 200 volunteers for what he called "fireside chats" to discuss the changes. Some had questions and concerns about how the shift will be implemented, but the reception was largely positive, Carman said.
"Based on the response I got at the fireside chats, people are anxious to get started," he said.
Carman noted that Scouting groups are seeing more single-parent homes and families with two working parents. Those factors have led to packed schedules where some families don't have the time to take one child to Boy Scouts one day a week and another child to Girl Scouts the next night. Some packs already allow sisters of Cub Scouts to participate in activities despite not being formal members.
Earlier this year, the National Organization for Women urged the Boy Scouts to allow girls to join. That organization said it was inspired by the efforts of a 15-year-old New York City girl, Sydney Ireland, to emulate her older brother, who is an Eagle Scout.
But the Girl Scouts of the USA had criticized the Boy Scouts of America's initiative, saying it strains the century-old bond between the two organizations. Girl Scouts officials have suggested the Boy Scouts' move was driven partly by a need to boost revenue, and they contended that there is fiscal stress in part because of past settlements paid by the Boy Scouts of America in sex-abuse cases.
In August, the president of the Girl Scouts, Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, accused the Boy Scouts of seeking to covertly recruit girls into their programs while disparaging the Girl Scouts' operations. On Monday, Hispanic civic leader Charles Garcia, just days after being named to the Girl Scouts' national board, wrote an opinion piece for the Huffington Post calling the Boy Scouts' overture to girls "a terrible idea."
Instead of recruiting girls, Garcia said the Boy Scouts should focus on attracting more black, Hispanic and Asian boys -- particularly those from low-income households.
The Girl Scouts, founded in 1912, and the Boy Scouts of America are among several major youth organizations in the U.S. experiencing sharp drops in membership in recent years. Reasons include competition from sports leagues, a perception by some families that they are old-fashioned and busy family schedules.
As of March, the Girl Scouts reported more than 1.5 million youth members and 749,000 adult members, down from just over 2 million youth members and about 800,000 adult members in 2014. The Boy Scouts say current youth participation is about 2.35 million, down from 2.6 million in 2013 and more than 4 million in peak years of the past.
Carman said the Quapaw Area Council's membership had steady growth until about three years ago. The council today has about 10,000 youths and more than 400 local subdivisions.
Girl Scouts Diamonds of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas -- which covers 74 Arkansas counties and a handful of bordering counties in Oklahoma and Texas -- has bucked the national trend of shrinking membership rolls. In fact, Chief Strategy Officer Cristy Sowell said, the group has grown over the past two years. It currently has 8,000 girls and 3,500 volunteers.
The group is not troubled by Wednesday's announcement, Sowell said. If the change provides even one girl the chance to pursue a positive opportunity in the Boy Scouts that's a good thing, she said.
Information for this article was contributed by David Crary of The Associated Press; by Niraj Chokshi of The New York Times; and by Hunter Field of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
A Section on 10/12/2017
Print Headline: Boy Scouts to open ranks to girls starting next year