Summer months count toward Scout advancement, whether a troop meets or not

posted Oct 8, 2016, 7:06 AM by Sapona District   [ updated Oct 8, 2016, 7:06 AM ]

Posted on September 21, 2016 by  in AdvancementAsk the Expert // 

expertlogo1Some troops take a break between summer camp and the resumption of school. 

That’s fine, but what about those Scouts who are serving in a position of responsibility when this summer break occurs? Does their time still count even if their troop isn’t meeting? 

The answer, contrary to the well-meaning policy of some Scout units, is yes. 

addressed this back in 2014 when Mike Lo Vecchio, a BSA expert on the matter, weighed in: 

A Scout who is currently registered and has not been removed from his unit because of disciplinary reasons should not be penalized because his unit is inactive during the summer months.

Two years later, the same answer applies. I checked back with Lo Vecchio, and he writes:

Regardless of the unit’s expectations or their policy, they must count the time served even though the unit is not meeting.

How might this play out in a troop? Here’s an example, sent in an email to me from a district commissioner in Tennessee:

It is not unusual for troops in our council to take a five- or six-week break during the summer after summer camp in mid-June and before school resumes the first week of August.

In this case, a Star Scout working towards Life Scout filled a patrol leader position for five months before the troop began its summer break. The troop is contending that he only completed five of the six months of leadership required to be advanced and that he needs to have one more month in a leadership role to be eligible for advancement.

His father contends, based on your article, it is not the son’s fault that the troop takes a short summer break and that his son should be eligible for advancement.

The father is correct. And you can consider this blog to be the official source. Once more, here’s Lo Vecchio:

Simply, the Scout cannot be penalized because the unit is not active during the summer months.

Further reading

See the Guide to Advancement for more guidance.

Can packs, troops, teams or crews participate in political rallies?

posted Oct 8, 2016, 7:04 AM by Sapona District   [ updated Oct 8, 2016, 7:06 AM ]

Posted on July 22, 2016 by  in Ask the ExpertBoy ScoutingCub ScoutingScouting TipsVarsityVenturing 

The Boy Scouts of America might be the most patriotic organization in the U.S. 

But we don’t endorse any one political party. You could say that rather than being pro-left or pro-right, the Boy Scouts of America is pro-America. 

The same applies to your pack, troop, team, post, ship or crew. You and your Scouts should Do Your Duty to Country but not by endorsing any one candidate. 

During election years, the line between patriotism and political favoritism becomes thin, making it important to remind you of the BSA’s official policy on Scout participation in political rallies. 

Fact is, Scout units like the one pictured above are permitted to provide a color guard flag ceremony, in uniform, at political events. Troop 605 from Rocky River, Ohio, provided that service Wednesday at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (Nice job, Nick S., Tristan A., Grayson N. and Erik H.!)

The troop served as color guard and then immediately left the stage and the premises. They provided a patriotic service and departed before things got political.

What about the other side of the aisle? A pack or troop in the Philadelphia area could, conceivably, provide the same service for next week’s Democratic National Convention if convention planners and a Scout unit were interested.

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions and the BSA’s official answers:

Q: Could a pack, troop, team or crew provide a color guard flag ceremony for a candidate’s public speaking event or rally?

A: Yes. But, BSA Policy requires our adult and youth members in uniform to leave immediately after the presentation of colors and the Pledge of Allegiance. Should they want to stay they must do so as individuals, not Scouting representatives. That means they would have to change out of their uniforms.

Q: So Scouts and Scouters can’t stand on the platform for the remainder of the speech or presentation?

A: No, they should not remain on the speakers’ platform or in a conspicuous location where media could construe their presence as an endorsement or symbol of support.

Q: Why is this the rule?

A: The policy is meant to prevent someone from using our brand to convey support of a candidate or ideology. This prevents Scouts from being used by any party in campaign advertisements or materials.

Q: So then why is it OK to even present the colors or lead the Pledge of Allegiance at all?

A: Those are displays of loyalty to the nation, something the BSA has always endorsed. Regardless of the outcome of the political race, the candidate and supporters pledge allegiance to the U.S. Because of this, it is always acceptable and deemed to be a part of the civic process. Also, this “service” is offered to any party, regardless of political affiliation.

Q: Can Scouts and Scouters pose for photos with political candidates at these events?

A: Yes. But photos of candidates or Scouts in uniform or BSA marks and logos are not allowed in political campaign materials of any kind.

Q: Can adult leaders or Venturers who are 18 or older vote in elections?

A: Not only can they — they should! This policy isn’t meant to limit the freedom of thought or action of any official or member acting as an individual. Scouters and Venturers shouldn’t wear their uniform to the polling place, but they should vote for whichever candidate they prefer. That’s all part of being a good citizen — something the BSA has taught for more than a century.

Q: What can Scout leaders do to support this policy?

A: Volunteers (and professionals) must be alert to situations that would imply that the BSA favors one candidate or party over another. Strict observance of our long-standing policy against the active participation of uniformed Scouts and leaders in political events is mandatory.

Q: Does Scouting still teach patriotism and citizenship?

A: Yes! The Boy Scouts of America teaches the ideals of patriotism and good citizenship as required to fulfill its purpose.

What is (and what isn’t) a camping night for the Camping MB?

posted Jun 28, 2015, 11:52 AM by Rowan District BSA   [ updated Jun 28, 2015, 12:20 PM ]

Posted on June 24, 2015 by  in AdvancementAsk the Expert 

When it comes to finding a place to spend the night, Boy Scouts have seemingly limitless options: tent, hammock, cabin, retired battleship, museum, church gymnasium, baseball stadium, sleeping bag under the stars.

All of these locations offer a great experience for Scouts, but only some count as camping — at least when it comes to the Camping merit badge.

Camping merit badge requirement 9a says:

Camp a total of at least 20 nights at designated Scouting activities or events.* One long-term camping experience of up to six consecutive nights may be applied toward this requirement. Sleep each night under the sky or in a tent you have pitched. If the camp provides a tent that has already been pitched, you need not pitch your own tent.

*All campouts since becoming a Boy Scout or Varsity Scout may count toward this requirement.

So just what is (and what isn’t) a camping night? Let’s ask the expert. 

The question

I have recently become advancement chairperson of a small troop. I am getting pressured to record an overnighter that took place in the meeting place (in a church youth room) and also an indoor aquarium museum sleepover towards the boy’s camping nights.

I don’t believe this fits the requirement for camping: “Under the stars or in a tent you have pitched …”

It’s been a hard sell. Could you please clarify what is and is not considered “camping”?



The expert’s response

This comes from Michael LoVecchio of the BSA’s Member Experience Innovation Team.

“The intent of the requirement is to camp overnight in a tent or under the stars,” LoVecchio says. “This means sleeping overnight in building/structure does not meet the intent of the requirement.”

More explanation

Still unclear? Here’s more:

“Camp a total of 20 nights …”

This means 20 overnights, so a weekend trip from Friday through Sunday is two nights. Complete 10 such trips, and you’ve got the 20 you need.

All campouts since becoming a Boy Scout or Varsity Scout may count toward this requirement. In other words, a Scout doesn’t need a blue card for the Camping MB before he may begin counting these nights. Any nights as a Boy Scout or Varsity Scout are eligible.

“… at designated Scouting activities or events.”

This means the experiences are held under the auspices of some level of the BSA, and that “Scouting” happens on them.

For example, an individual family or a couple of Scouts and their parents heading off into the woods doesn’t count.

“One long-term camping experience of up to six consecutive nights may be applied toward this requirement.”

  • A long-term camping experience is at least five consecutive nights. The long-term camping experience must also be a “designated Scouting activity or event.” This could be at a council summer camp or on a troop’s own 50 miler, a Jamboree, high-adventure base, etc.
  • Only one of these experiences is allowed, and up to six nights may count toward the requirement. Example: A trip that lasts Sunday through Saturday counts as six nights.
  • If a Scout goes on a 10-night trek or a 20-night trek or a 100-night trek (!), only six of those nights will count.
  • If a Scout goes to summer camp twice for a total of 12 nights, only one of the summer camps will count — for up to six nights.
  • The remainder of the camping nights must be accumulated through short-term camping — normally weekend troop campouts.
  • Example 1: A Scout goes to summer camp for six nights. He can count all of those nights and now needs 14 more nights. These 14 nights must come from short-term camping experiences — probably seven two-night weekend campouts.
  • Example 2: A Scout goes on a 10-night Philmont trek. He can count six of those nights and now needs 14 more nights.These 14 nights must come from short-term camping experiences — probably seven two-night weekend campouts.
  • Example 3: A Scout can’t make it to summer camp or a high-adventure base. Over the course of three years he attends 10 two-night troop campouts, sleeping in a tent each time. After the 20th night he has completed the requirement.

“Sleep each night under the sky or in a tent you have pitched.”

  • All 20 nights must be spent under the sky or in a tent, so nights in cabins don’t count.
  • If camping is done at a camp that provides tents that are already set up, then all is good. If tents are not already pitched, the Scout must pitch his tent. If he is sleeping in a two-man tent, then it would be reasonable the he and his buddy set the tent up together. Sleeping in a tent that Dad or the Scoutmaster, etc., pitched doesn’t count.

A final thought

Some parents have Scouts in troops that don’t do very much camping. They can get in the long-term outing, but it takes a long time for their troop to get out on enough campouts to make up the other 14 nights.

As a workaround they suggest they will send their son to summer camp, but then take him home after four nights so the experience will not count as a long-term camp. This doesn’t fulfill the requirement.

Short-term campouts provide variety in both preparation and experience, and the Scouts are more likely to have to set up their own tent and take more responsibility for outdoor living skills. A long-term summer camp is still a long-term camp even if the Scout is there for only a portion of the time. It’s an entirely different adventure and usually doesn’t call for the same level of self-reliance required for a short term camp.

Yes, Summer Months Count Toward Advancement Time

posted Jun 24, 2015, 8:02 AM by Rowan District BSA   [ updated Jun 24, 2015, 8:02 AM ]

Posted on July 31, 2014 by  in AdvancementAsk the Expert 

Most Scouts are taking a break from school right now, but Scouting doesn’t take summers off.

So I was surprised to learn that in one troop, the Scoutmaster mandates that summer months don’t count toward Boy Scout advancement requirements. That means he doesn’t count June, July or August as valid months required for Scouts needing four active months for Star or six active months for Life.

I’m sure he means well, but the Scoutmaster is wrong on this one.

Here’s the question and the expert’s response.

The question

In our troop, the Scoutmaster mandates that during school summer recess, he will not acknowledge summer time as valid months required for either Star or Life advancement.

Our schedule usually ends after a court of honor in mid-June. During the summer, Scouts attend camps in the district or council activities. The Scouts are in good registration and still actively participate in Scouting activities. Is the Scoutmaster right?


[name withheld]

The applicable requirement

The requirement for Star reads: Be active in your unit (and patrol if you are in one) for at least four months as a First Class Scout.

And for Life it’s: Be active in your unit (and patrol if you are in one) for at least six months as a Star Scout.

Losing two or three months during summer hurts the Scout working toward either of these ranks.

The expert’s answer

From Mike Lo Vecchio of the BSA’s Content Management Team:

A Scout who is currently registered and has not been removed from his unit because of disciplinary reasons should not be penalized because his unit is inactive during the summer months.

Requirements completed for merit badges and ranks must be counted.

If he holds a position of responsibility during the time his unit is not active, he cannot be penalized, and his time must be counted.

As with all service hours for Second Class, Star and Life, they must be approved by the unit leader.

If service hours are to be performed during the months the unit is not active, the unit leader should not disapprove otherwise valid service and prevent the Scout from completing his requirements.

Digitizing medical records

posted Jan 23, 2015, 6:32 AM by Rowan District BSA

Posted on January 23, 2015 by in Ask the Expert, Health and Safety

BSA says please don’t.

Digitally storing photos, books and music means everything’s at our fingertips wherever we are.

It’s convenient, but anyone who follows the news knows it’s not exactly secure.

That’s why there’s one thing for sure that doesn’t belong in the cloud: Scout medical records.

The rule is clear: Boy Scout Annual Health and Medical Records are not to be digitized, scanned, sent by email or stored electronically by unit leaders.

For more on the subject of digitizing medical records, let’s Ask the Expert.

The original question

Here’s the email I received from John, an assistant Scoutmaster:

This is a question for your “Ask the Expert” crew. In the past I have heard of people who take unit medical forms and scan them to a USB drive to carry. We have also done this in our troop. I was at a training over the weekend and one of the Scouters was adamant that the BSA “does not allow” saving documents to electronic media. Is this really the case? If so can you explain the thought behind this?

The expert’s response

From Richard Bourlon, the BSA’s authority on health and safety:

Thanks for the question. First, please click here to review the FAQs at our one-stop place for all things related to medical records.

Under the “Have Questions? Get Answers Here” button you’ll find this:

Q. Can I keep a record of my Annual Health and Medical Record somewhere at my council’s office or online?

A. No. Please don’t digitizeDistricts and councils are discouraged from keeping any medical records, whether digital or paper, unless required by local or state ordinances. However, the electronic version of the Annual Health and Medical Record is intended to be filled out and saved by individual Scouts and Scouters. The electronic version of the Annual Health and Medical Record should not be transmitted via email or stored electronically by units, districts or councils. Units are encouraged to keep paper copies of their participants’ Annual Health and Medical Records in a confidential medical file for quick access in an emergency and to be prepared for all adventures.

There’s also this:

Q. What do leaders do with the Annual Health and Medical Records they collect?

A. In all cases, the information gathered is for use in conducting a safe Scouting program. Information gathered in the AHMR must be maintained and shared in a confidential and discreet manner. Some conditions may require communication to ensure the safety of participants. This information should only be shared on a “need-to-know” basis.

Following are some of the best practices for using and storing the records:

  • The Annual Health and Medical Record is secured to maintain the confidentiality of the information, yet at the same time, the forms should be accessible by adult leaders in an emergency. The following guidance will assist leaders in achieving this goal:
  • Leaders are encouraged to maintain the original AHMR forms in a safe location in a binder or file that protects the documents entrusted to the unit leader.
  • The AHMR should be taken on all activities.
  • Designate a leader to keep the files containing the AHMR up to date.  This may include reminding participants to update the AHMR annually or as needed.
  • Designate a leader as the point of contact with event or camp health officers.  If needed, the leader should arrange to have the AHMR returned to him or her at the end of the event, if allowed by the state.
  • The unit leader (or his or her designee) is responsible for destroying or returning to the participant (or parent and/or guardian) the AHMR documents when the participant leaves the unit or when the documents become outdated.
  • Records are NOT to be digitized, scanned, sent by email, or stored electronically by unit leaders.
  • To streamline a summer or winter camp check-in, records of all participants are reviewed to make sure they are up to date, completed, and signed before leaving for camp. Be sure to check with the camp for any additional information that may be needed. For example, specific immunization records may be required in some states.

Finally, you asked for the reason behind this rule. We have evaluated the risks associated with digitizing and have made a conscious effort not to do it. What you may think seems like such a good idea has many implications on privacy, data transmission, loss, etc., that we are not ready to address. So as an organization have chosen to avoid the risk. Please don’t digitize.

Merit badge counselors: Facts about limits and counseling family members

posted Jan 18, 2015, 10:12 AM by Rowan District BSA   [ updated Jan 18, 2015, 10:12 AM ]

Posted on November 19, 2014 by  in Ask the ExpertBoy ScoutingMerit Badges 

I get a lot of questions about merit badge counselors, so today I’ll answer three I’m frequently asked.

My source for all of these answers: This page in the “2013 Guide to Advancement.” That’s a good reminder to look there first for your merit-badge-related questions. Not to say I mind hearing from you, of course!

Today I’ll answer:

  • Is there a limit to the number of merit badges an individual may counsel?
  • Is there a limit to the number of merit badges a Scout may earn from a single counselor?
  • Can someone counsel his or her own family member?

Here we go …

Is there a limit to the number of merit badges an individual may counsel?

Short answer: The National Council doesn’t set a limit, but local councils may do so as long as it doesn’t limit a Scout’s choices and become a barrier to advancement.

Long answer: Here’s the relevant part of the “Guide to Advancement”:

The National Council places no limit on the number of merit badges an individual may be approved to counsel, except to the extent a person lacks skills and education in a given subject. The intent is for Scouts to learn from those with an appropriate level of expertise.

Although it is permissible for councils to limit the number of badges that one person counsels, it must not do so to the point where Scouts’ choices, especially in small or remote units, are so limited as to serve as a barrier to advancement.

Is there a limit to the number of merit badges a Scout may earn from a single counselor?

Short answer: The National Council doesn’t set a limit, but a unit leader may do so as long as that rule applies to everyone in the unit.

Long answer: Here’s the relevant part of the “Guide to Advancement”:

Neither does the National Council place a limit on the number of merit badges a youth may earn from one counselor.

However, in situations where a Scout is earning a large number of badges from just one counselor, the unit leader is permitted to place a limit on the number of merit badges that may be earned from one counselor, as long as the same limit applies to all Scouts in the unit.

Can someone counsel his or her own family member?

Short answer: Yes. But it’s preferable to broaden a Scout’s horizons whenever possible or practical.

Long answer: Here’s the relevant part of the “Guide to Advancement”:

Approved counselors may work with and pass any member, including their own son, ward, or relative.

Nevertheless, we often teach young people the importance of broadening horizons. Scouts meeting with counselors beyond their families and beyond even their own units are doing that. They will benefit from the perspectives of many “teachers” and will learn more as a result. They should be encouraged to reach out.

Does a Scout have to do a board of review for each merit badge?

posted Oct 5, 2014, 8:52 AM by Rowan District BSA   [ updated Oct 5, 2014, 8:55 AM ]

Answer: Nope. In fact, Article X, Clause 13, of the Rules and Regulations of the BSA specifically states, "There shall be no board of review procedure for merit badges"

"Once a registered and approved counselor has passed a Scout on requirements for a merit badge, it cannot be taken away. Nor does unit leadership have the authority to retract approval, or take the badge away." (GTA

Is there a time limit for completing a merit badge?

posted Sep 28, 2014, 9:37 AM by Rowan District BSA   [ updated Sep 28, 2014, 9:40 AM ]

Posted on September 5, 2014 in Advancement, Ask the Expert, Boy Scouting, Merit Badges 

Some merit badges can be completed in a weekend; others take a little longer.

But what happens when a Boy Scout — for whatever reason — stretches the time between starting and finishing a merit badge to 12 months, 18 months, 3 years or longer?

In other words: Is there a time limit for completing a merit badge?

That’s what a Scouter named Jim wondered.

The question

Jim writes:

Once a boy begins a merit badge, is there a certain time period in which he needs to have it finished, other than by his 18th birthday?

In our council we have always been told that they have 18 months to earn them, and then if they are not completely finished in that time that they have to start all over again.

The expert’s answer

The short answer: There is no time limit between starting and completing a badge except for the Boy Scout’s 18th birthday.

Mike Lo Vecchio of the BSA’s Content Management Team offers more explanation:

There are a couple of areas in the Guide to Advancement that speak to this.

The text box under topic states: “All merit badge requirements must be met while a registered Boy Scout or Varsity Scout, or a qualified Venturer or Sea Scout.” Although not explicitly stated, it is implied there are no time limits with the exception of the 18th birthday.

Under topic, it states: “… any registered Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, or qualified Venturer or Sea Scout may work on any of them at any time.” Again, although not explicitly stated, it is implied there are no time limits with the exception of the 18th birthday.

Under topic (Partial Completions), it states in part “Partials have no expiration except the Scout’s 18th birthday.”

And finally, under topic (What to do When Requirements Change), last paragraph, it states: “There is no time limit between starting and completing a badge, although a counselor may determine so much time has passed since any effort took place that the new requirements must be used.”

That final paragraph ( only applies to merit badges with new requirements. So only in the case where a merit badge’s requirements change and “so much time has passed since any effort took place” may a merit badge counselor ask a Scout to start again with the new requirements.

Otherwise, the overall rules of no time limit apply.

Hope that helps!

Ask the Experts your question

Find other expertly answered questions here, and ask your own by emailing me. I can’t respond to each question, but I select commonly asked questions to answer on the blog.

BSA says uniform shirts should always be tucked in

posted Aug 23, 2014, 8:07 AM by Rowan District BSA   [ updated Aug 23, 2014, 8:08 AM ]

Posted on October 9, 2013 on 

To tuck or not to tuck. 

That was the question on the minds of hundreds of parents who have called the BSA headquarters over the past several months. 

Their query: Does the Boy Scouts of America require uniform shirts to be tucked in? The questions are specifically referring to field uniforms (known to some by the unofficial name “Class A”) and not activity uniforms (“Class B”). 

Problem is there hasn’t been an official policy in the past. The requirement was that the uniform-wearer must be “neat in appearance.” Most packs, troops, and crews interpreted that to mean tucking the shirts in, but a few didn’t.

Now we’ve got our final answer. Read the BSA’s official stance after the jump:

Effective Oct. 1, 2013, the official stance on the Boy Scouts of America’s uniform policy is that shirts are to be worn tucked in, regardless of whether the wearer is a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, Venturer or adult Scouter. All Sea Scout uniforms are designed to be tucked in except youth dress whites and youth dress blues.

In the past, guidelines have simply stated the uniform wearer should be neat in appearance. Neatness includes tucking in the shirt. This update will appear in related resources, such as the uniform inspection sheets, as they are revised and printed.

So there you have it: Tuck those uniform shirts in. Though the official stance is new, the practice is old as the BSA itself. Any time you see a Scout wearing a uniform in an official BSA-printed publication, his shirt is tucked in. Just look through the Boy Scout Handbook, Scouting or Boys’ Life magazines, a BSA Supply catalog, or any merit badge pamphlet, and you’ll see exclusively tucked-in shirts.

Equally important is what’s not being said here. The BSA doesn’t tell you to wear the field uniform at all times. Many units that conduct a service project or take a weekend backpacking trip will leave the field uniform shirt on the hanger at home. But that’s up to you (and your Scouts) to decide.

Can a Scoutmaster refuse to give a blue card?

posted Aug 2, 2014, 7:58 PM by Rowan District BSA   [ updated Aug 3, 2014, 7:45 AM ]

Posted on December 23, 2013 in Ask the Expert 

"What are the valid reasons a Scoutmaster can use to refuse to give a Scout a blue card? A particular example that is of issue in our troop is having too many outstanding partial merit badges. If a boy has three or more partials the Scoutmaster will not give him more because of this troop policy."

The policies regarding blue cards changed with the release of the 2013 edition of the Guide to Advancement. See topic Unit leaders do not have the authority to refuse to give a Scout a blue card.

The signature on a blue card signifies, simply, that the unit leader has had a discussion about the badge with the Scout and that the Scout has been provide the name of at least one registered and approved counselor.

The discussion should cover what the Scout might face as he challenges the badge. The SM, for example, may suggest that a Scout wait to take Shotgun Shooting until he is strong enough to lift the firearm. The SM could also suggest that it would be wise for a Scout to finish up the badges he’s already begun, and so on. The Scout, however, regardless the advice of the SM, is free to pursue the badge.

He may also choose a different registered and approved counselor if he wants to. The blue card has been revised and reprinted to reflect this change, but there are still many old blue cards out there.

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