By Jordan Williams/Arizona Sonora News
PHOENIX — Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Future Farmers of America attended the Senate Education committee Tuesday to support a Senate bill that would allow youth groups designated as “patriotic” societies under federal law to send representatives to speak during school hours with permission from a school’s principal.
The bipartisan bill, introduced by Sen. Heather Carter (R-15), is SB 1099, and it requires public schools to provide access to students from the designated groups to present their programs by way of promoting civic engagement while avoiding undue controversy.
“We have many organizations that come to our schools and say they want to provide information to the students, and it can be overwhelming,” Carter said. “So this really says now, to the school communities ‘these are the organizations that, by statute, we need to provide'” access.
Carter said that Girl Scouts, Arizona Cactus-Pine Council, the Girl Scouts council that encompasses most of Arizona, approached her with the idea.
Similar legislation “has been passed in many other states, so we thought this bill would work in Arizona as well,” Carter said.
For example, Tennessee requires school principals to set aside one day out of the school year for those designated groups to address students, for ten minutes
In Arizona, with approval from a school’s principal, these groups, such as Boys and Girls Club, will have 10 minutes of school hours during the first quarter of the school year to promote their organization to students. They are allowed to leave behind information such as flyers and pamphlets.
School principals cannot discriminate among any of these organizations based on criteria such as membership, leadership requirements, or any oaths of allegiance.
“It will be a door-opener and will support our efforts to get the message about Girl Scouting to girls in all communities,” said Tamara Woodbury, the chief executive of Girl Scouts, Arizona Cactus- Pine Council. The message is important “specifically, in communities that haven’t had a lot of civic engagement and activities for youth,” she said.
Lisa Keegan, incoming board chair of Grand Canyon Council of Boy Scouts, said that the bill clarifies how they get in touch with schools, and the rules for presentations: “Don’t take very much time, be very respectful of instructional time, get it done, hand out your materials,” Keegan said. “Those rules are great for us and for the schools because they don’t feel like they have to be inundated with everyone.”
Though a bipartisan bill, there was early opposition. While the bill allows these groups access to public schools, it does not restrict what they are allowed to say, raising concerns about potential controversies over religious or politically oriented speech.
Carter said she would not envision these organizations taking political stands anyway. “What we would envision is that they would provide a flyer, for example, for Girl Scouts to say ‘Hey, we’re having a troop meeting on Tuesdays at 7:30; we would like for you to join,’” she said.
According to these organizations, their own policies and procedures already have sufficient guidelines to address potential controversies. “Our individual charters prevent,” getting into such areas, Keegan said. “We can’t do that, I imagine the Girl Scouts can’t do it either — so it’s already taken care of in our organizations.”
Girl Scouts do not take positions on elections, for example, Woodbury said.
“If it’s about girls and it’s about our mission, then we’re definitely in the community as a voice for girls,” Woodbury said. “But we don’t take stands on political issues.”
The bill has bipartisan support in the House and the Senate, which pleases Keegan.
“It’s just really good validation about what we know in Arizona,” Keegan said. “Which is that when it comes to youth-serving organizations and what’s best for youth, people really get together.”
Here is the federal code designating “patriotic” societies: http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?path=/prelim@title36/subtitle2&edition=prelim