More often than I’d like, I hear of troops making end runs around BSA safety rules. If they want to do an activity that the Guide to Safe Scouting prohibits – riding dirt bikes, for example, or going boating without following Safety Afloat policies – they do the activity as a “group of friends.” They don’t wear uniforms and they don’t file a tour plan, but everybody on the trip, which is promoted at troop meetings, just happens to be a member of the troop, and all the gear they use just happens to belong to the troop.
There are a couple of big problems with this approach (besides what it teaches Scouts about the meaning of “a Scout is obedient”).
First, safety rules exist for a reason. Kids are just as likely to get hurt doing dangerous things whether the trip is official or unofficial.
Second, the fiction that a trip is unofficial can open troop leaders and the chartered organization to legal liability. Case in point: Last week, a Kentucky jury awarded $2.15 million in damages to the estate of a 13-year-old boy who died on an unofficial church youth group trip when the youth minister, Derek Coulter, let him drive his SUV on a rural road. The jury found both Coulter and the church liable. Here’s what a Courier-Journal story during the trail said:
The church’s lawyers are expected to show that the camp-out was never on its official schedule, nor approved by the board, and that Coulter paid for his own gas when he filled up a few minutes before the accident.
The estate is likely to counter with a variety of evidence, including testimony from one or more of the campers who have said that Coulter’s wife, who chaperoned them, told them they couldn’t curse because it was a church outing.
[Group member Jordan] Keeling and others also have testified that the first thing Coulter told emergency responders after the crash was, “Call my pastor,” while other witnesses have said that he called the camp-out a church trip during his eulogy.
Moreover, the owner of the farm where the camp-out was held, Terry Howell, has said in court papers that he first heard about the proposed event at the church and allowed it on his land only after Coulter signed a liability waiver.
(You can read more at http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2012304220064 and http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2012304260115.)
Now, there are clearly times when families who’ve become friends in Scouting do things together outside the bounds of Scouting. But I think it’s very important that we make clear that those activities are truly conducted by groups of friends and not by Scouts and Scouters who just happened to leave their uniforms at home.
Republished with permission of Mark Ray at http://www.eaglebook.com/