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Boy Scouts discriminated against Utah teenager with Down syndrome, lawsuit says

Logan Blythe, 15, poses for a photo in his Boy Scout uniform. (Chad Blythe)

When Logan Blythe learned that his Eagle Scout project had been approved last November, he was elated. After years of hard work earning merit badges and participating in the Boy Scouts through his local Utah church, Logan was one step closer to becoming an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in the Scouts.

Rising to that rank is an impressive feat for any teenage boy, but particularly for 15-year-old Logan, who has Down syndrome. He has the cognitive abilities of a 4-year-old and is incapable of writing or holding an intelligible conversation, his father, Chad Blythe, told The Washington Post.

Despite his limitations, local Scout leaders allowed him to earn merit badges by completing the requirements to the best of his abilities. And on Nov. 9, Scout officials told him his Eagle Scout project  — making kits for newborn babies in hospitals — had been approved. Logan smiled widely for a photo in his green Boy Scout sash.

“We were all overjoyed,” Chad Blythe, of Payson, said in an interview with The Post. “We were all happy that this was happening … not only for Logan but for his troop and for the Boy Scouts.”

But about 24 hours later, the father received an email from one of the same Scout officials photographed with Logan the day before.

“I have been asked to suspend Logan’s Eagle Project approval,” the email stated. “Please do not do any more work on his project.”

When the local officials contacted the national Boy Scouts organization, they were told that there were no alternative requirements for the Eagle rank, the email said, meaning they would be unable to accommodate Logan.

“The young man MUST do the requirements as written, including leadership responsibilities,” the email said. “He also must be able to plan, develop and carry out his Eagle Project.”

“I sincerely apologize and regret any false hope we have given,” it also said.

Since Logan had not earned his merit badges by fulfilling the requirements as written, he would no longer be eligible for the Eagle Scout rank.

Now, his parents are suing the Boy Scouts of America, accusing the organization of discriminating against Logan because of his disabilities.

The lawsuit, filed last week in the Fourth Judicial District Court of Utah County, names the National Boy Scouts of America Foundation, Boy Scouts of America, the Utah National Parks Council, and nine people employed by the Utah National Parks Council. It demands that the Boy Scouts of America accommodate Logan and provide damages of at least $1.

The local Scout officials’ approval and subsequent suspension of Logan’s project, the lawsuit says, “was outrageous and reckless and caused Logan and the Blythes significant mental and emotional distress.”

On Tuesday, the Boy Scouts of America responded to local and national news coverage of the family’s allegations, saying it hopes to work with Logan and his parents to support his efforts to become an Eagle Scout.

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“We want to be clear — the option to earn the rank of Eagle Scout has been — and still is — available to Logan,” the Boy Scouts statement read. “We remain inspired by his dedication to Scouting, and we hope to continue working with Logan and his family to support him in the effort to earn the rank of Eagle Scout.”

“The process of achieving the Eagle Scout rank is rigorous for any Scout, but it is designed so that accommodations can be made for Scouts with disabilities or special needs,” the statement continued. “The National Disabilities Advancement Team wants to work directly with the Blythe family to review what Logan has accomplished based on his abilities and help determine a path to earn the Eagle Scout rank that is both appropriate and empowering for him.”

But Chad Blythe said Boy Scout officials have not reached out to his family directly and have not responded to his emails. He said the organization’s statement appears to be an attempt to save face, and it contradicts policies listed on the Boy Scouts’ website.

“Alternatives are not available for the Star, Life, and Eagle rank requirements,” the Boy Scouts website states. “Scouts may request approval for alternative merit badges, but the other requirements for those three ranks must be fulfilled as written.”

“It is important to remember that the advancement program is meant to challenge our members; however, not all of them can achieve everything they might want to — with or without a disability. It is for this reason all Scouts are required to meet the requirements as they are written, with no exceptions,” the website also says.

Even some requirements for alternative merit badges would be impossible for Logan to meet, his father said. Although he can function at a high level physically, he has a hard time understanding and following instructions. He is incapable of reciting or memorizing anything, and he has difficulty writing and speaking.

Logan has won a gold medal in swimming the 25-meter freestyle in Utah’s regional Special Olympics, but he can’t dive to the bottom of a pool or tread water on command, which are requirements for a swimming merit badge. “You can ask him to dive to the bottom of the pool or tread water, but he’s going to look at you and just wave and smile,” Chad Blythe said.

The cooking merit badge, for example, requires a Boy Scout to measure ingredients precisely.

“If you give a 4-year-old a bag of flour, what’s going to happen?” Blythe said. “That’s exactly the way he thinks. He’s really operating at the level of a 4-year-old.”

Logan, who is in the ninth grade, loves horses, Curious George, and his stuffed giraffe named Giraffe. He loves to make people smile, often pointing at his father’s face and telling him “Daddy, smile?”

But because of his developmental delays and limited verbal skills, Logan is often isolated. Joining the Boy Scouts provided him with an avenue to develop social skills, make friends and work toward goals.

Moreover, Logan and his family are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is closely tied to the Boy Scouts in Utah. Most social opportunities for teenagers in the Mormon Church involve participation in the Boy Scouts. And becoming an Eagle Scout award is a “very high honor,” Chad Blythe said.

“It’s considered one of those things you do … to build a man, if you will,” he said. “It’s a bit of a symbol of pride.

“We viewed it as a way for Logan to be a leader, for Logan to help the people around him, which is one of things Logan loves to do the most,” the father added.

And Logan loved it. He was always excited to put on his green sash. But now he no longer wants to wear his uniform, his father said. Even though he didn’t fully understand the details, he became visibly depressed after his Eagle Scout project was suspended.

In recent days, his family has received an outpouring of messages from people across the country outraged by Logan’s situation. Numerous Eagle Scouts have offered to give Logan their honors. Jim Dabakis, a Democratic Utah state senator, invited Logan to be an “honorary Senator for a day.”

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But what Logan’s family wants is to “expand the vision” of the organization, “not just for our son but also for the next kid.”

“If we can make a change and make something positive come of all of this, then the next kid … won’t have to do what we’re doing now,” Chad Blythe said, “and they won’t be hurt and let down the way Logan has been let down.”

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