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Pinellas School Board rejects Boy Scout money over gay discrimination

LARGO — Pinellas County School Board members on Tuesday voted to reject a $54,838 grant for a program run by a subsidiary of the Boy Scouts of America on grounds the organization discriminates against gay youth.

Board member Linda Lerner has been objecting to the grant for 11 years, saying that the district should not endorse a group that has a policy denying gays.

When she pulled the item for the 11th time Tuesday, she read from a Boy Scout statement against homosexuality requiring that a scout be "morally straight" and "clean in word and deed."

"If you're gay," she said, "it says you're not morally straight and clean."

Lerner, who has a gay son, said the district already has a strong character education program and does not need to depend on Learning for Life grant. The grant would have supported programs this year at Mildred Helms and Skyview Elementary Schools, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor and Tyrone middle schools, Paul B. Stephens Exceptional Education Center and the district's dropout prevention program.

"This board has a chance to send a strong message to the Boy Scouts," Lerner said, urging her fellow board members once again to say no to the funds.

When board Chairwoman Carol Cook called for a vote of the seven-member board, Lerner looked surprised.

Raising their hands and voices in opposition with Lerner were Terry Krassner, Lew Williams and Janet Clark.

"It fails!" Lerner cried with a big smile across her face. "Thank you. Thank you so much."

Later, board member Robin Wikle asked the majority to reconsider its vote, saying the data shows the program brings good student results.

"I, as a board member, would just caution us making a decision to eliminate a program based on a political statement that the board makes from the table," Wikle said.

No one from the prevailing side responded, except for Lerner who responded, "I'll just say it is not political. Not discriminating against our homosexual citizens, it is not political."

Williams, a former Boy Scout, said his concern is not with the Boy Scouts, but with any discriminatory language.

Lerner again asked board members who voted with her to remember why they did so.

"This board took a very important step with this vote," Lerner said. "I know that it will probably be put in the paper and a certain amount of pressure will probably be put on you. Please stand firm and please think about why you voted as you did. . . . I'm encouraging you not to reconsider even though there may be pressure and e-mails."

Cook, who voted against the measure, said at the conclusion of the meeting that she wants the district to find a replacement program for the Learning for Life curriculum.

She said she finds it "ironic" that the discussion is over a program that is "actually teaching respect."

"I'm a little bothered that that program is one that we have voted down because of discrimination concern," she said, adding that she understands the concern. "We need to do everything we can to bring civility not only back into the schools, but back into this board room."

Staff Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or rcatalanello@sptimes.com.

Editors note: An earlier version of this story inaccurately stated how the grant is structured. In fact, the grant money is state dollars earmarked specifically to go to districts for the Boy Scouts-affiliated Learning for Life program.

Pinellas School Board rejects Boy Scout money over gay discrimination 10/11/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 6:03pm]
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