If you have a mentally disabled son and you live near St. Louis then you can forget about having him join the Wyland Elementary Cub Scout Pack 765 because the pack’s leaders are bigoted asshats who don’t want your retarded child rubbing off on their normal kids. They’ve already kicked Renee Irby’s adopted son Christopher out of the pack for unspecified “behavior and social challenges.”
“After much consideration in regards to the Cub Scout program, the [Cub Scout Pack] Committee has concluded that Pack 765 does not offer an appropriate format for your son,” states the September 24 letter, which is signed by Huston and Hummert.
“In addition, after observing Christopher’s behavior at both den and pack meetings throughout the 2003-2004 school year, and, for both his safety and the other children’s safety, we insist that he not attend the meetings or other pack events,” the letter continues.
“I got very upset. I cannot believe that these guys are kicking me out because my kid’s retarded,” says Irby. “I cannot believe grownups are acting like this. This is a very bad example to set for your children.”
Scouting leaders in the area tried to defend the issue as being one of potential risk to the other members despite the fact that the newspaper wasn’t able to find any other scout mothers who felt Christopher had been a problem at all.
Boy Scout representatives maintain they make every effort to accommodate special-needs children.
“There are many, many stories of accommodation and success,” says Joe Mueller, spokesman for the Greater St. Louis Area Council, Boy Scouts of America. “In this case the scout presented some extreme challenges, behaviorally and socially, that required [leaders] to consider the safety of the rest of the scouts first.”
But scout mothers who spent months with Irby’s son contend the seven-year-old never posed any behavioral problems. “He was a little slower than my child, but he participated just as well as mine did,” says scout mother Amy Aubuchon. “He wasn’t dangerous, or irate, or anything like that. He sat and did the same activities as my kid. He’s a great kid. I never found anything wrong with him.”
Boy Scout spokesman Mueller declined to discuss Irby’s son’s behavior, saying only: “The pack has made a determination. We support the leadership of our packs and troops.”
The pack leaders themselves are keeping quiet other than to try and claim that the letter wasn’t discriminatory at all:
Huston and Hummert declined to comment for this story, but Hummert did offer that she thought the letter was “not at all” discriminatory toward Renee Irby or her developmentally disabled son.
Phil Ferguson, dean of the College of Education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, begs to differ. “Come on! He’s seven years old. On its face, it’s outrageous, segregationist and discriminatory,” Ferguson says. “It’s offensive that these leaders would reach this point instead of saying, ‘Let’s sit down and figure out how we can work this out.’ But what really irritates me is that they take that kind of almost restraining-order kind of language—‘Keep your kid away from our normal kids.’ It’s bogus.”
This flies in the face of official Scouting brochures which promote scouting as being inclusive of disabled kids and providing them with an opportunity to fit in.
“The basic premise of Scouting for youth with disabilities and special needs is that they want most to participate like other youth—and Scouting gives them that opportunity,” reads a fact sheet entitled “Scouts with Disabilities and Special Needs.”
“The program for Scouts with disabilities and special needs is directed at (1) helping unit leaders develop an awareness of disabled people among youth without disabilities, and (2) encouraging the inclusion of Scouts with disabilities and special needs in Cub Scout packs.”
But local scout leadership is holding firm. “If [pack leadership has] made a decision that the health and safety of their youth members is being compromised—then we respect that decision,” says Mueller, who emphasizes that the scouts have presented Irby with other options. “He could join another pack at another school.”
That’s cold comfort to Renee Irby, who has yet to tell her son he’s no longer welcome at Pack 765 events. “You know what I feel like?” she asks. “I feel like it’s all bullshit.”
Indeed. What’s to stop these other packs from also deciding they don’t want a retarded kid in their midsts? How many packs does he have to get kicked out of for being different before the BSA decides to join the 21st century and end its policies of discrimination? How big of an asshole do you need to be to kick a kid out without ever even discussing the supposed problems with his mother who went as far as to become a “Tiger Cub Leader” herself to help out the group?
Just one more reason I won’t support the Boy Scouts in my area.