NEW YORK — Embracing a historic change, the Boy Scouts of America announced Wednesday plans to admit girls into the Cub Scouts starting next year and to establish a new program for older girls using the same curriculum as the Boy Scouts.
Under the plan, Cub Scout dens — the smallest unit — will be single-gender, either all-boys or all-girls. The larger Cub Scout packs will have the option to remain single gender or welcome both genders. The program for older girls is expected to start in 2019 and will enable girls to earn the coveted rank of Eagle Scout.
The Boy Scouts board of directors, which approved the plan unanimously in a meeting at BSA headquarters in Texas, said the change was needed to provide more options for parents.
“We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children,” said Michael Surbaugh, the BSA’s chief scout executive.
“The values of Scouting — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example — are important for both young men and women,” Surbaugh added.
Daniel Rogers, scout executive for the Georgia Carolina Council of the Boy Scouts of America, said in a statement it is “important to note that the program will be a single-gender program,” with packs having the option of either being all girls, all boys or mixed with separate dens for girls and boys.
“It will not be a coed program,” Rogers said. “From feedback we have received from our own constituents, this is a good thing,” although “overall, those in our scouting family are in favor of the idea to include girls in scouting.”
Reached by phone, Rogers said dens led by moms and dads have long seen siblings attend meetings and participate, and BSA has involved girls in programs since 1971.
“It will be up to the packs to decide,” Rogers said. “A small rural area may go with a mixed pack.”
Rogers said membership in the Georgia Carolina Council is up 12 percent this year to 2,892 scouts drawn from 130 different scouting units in 12 Georgia and four South Carolina counties – including Richmond, Columbia, Burke, McDuffie and Aiken. Some 270 participate in the Explorer program, which allows girls.
The BSA’s announcement follows many months of outreach by the organization, which distributed videos and held meetings with the Boy Scout community to discuss the possibility of expanding girls’ participation beyond existing programs, such as Venturing and Sea Scouts.
The Girl Scouts of the USA criticized the initiative, saying it strained the century-old bond between the two organizations. Girl Scout officials have suggested the BSA’s move was driven partly by financial problems and a need to boost revenue.
In August, the president of the Girl Scouts accused the Boy Scouts of seeking to covertly recruit girls into their programs while disparaging the Girl Scouts’ operations.
“I formally request that your organization stay focused on serving the 90 percent of American boys not currently participating in Boy Scouts … and not consider expanding to recruit girls,” wrote GSUSA President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan in a letter to the BSA’s president, AT&T Chairman Randall Stephenson.
The Girl Scouts, founded in 1912, and the BSA, founded in 1910, are among several major youth organizations in the U.S. experiencing sharp drops in membership in recent years. Reasons include competition from youth sports leagues, a perception by some families that they are old-fashioned and busy schedules that prompt some parents to despair of meeting all their children’s obligations. For some families, scouting programs that welcome both boys and girls could be a welcome convenience.
As of March, GSUSA reported 1,566,671 youth members and 749,008 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.
Staff writer Susan McCord contributed to this article.