Parents say Girl Scouts discriminated against daughter with disability
Elyce Dobbins was shocked when she received emails from an Alta Sierra Girl Scout troop leader, stating that her 10-year-old daughter was not ready to be a part of their group.
“I’m really upset. I really feel like my daughter’s rights are being violated because this is supposed to be something anybody can sign up for,” Dobbins said. “If you saw her, she is like a regular kid, she’s just got some issues with processing things.”
Dobbins says her daughter has an Auditory processing disorder, also known as ADP, a disability that affects 5 percent of school-aged children. Children with ADP can’t process the information they hear in the same way others can because something affects the way the brain recognizes and interprets sounds and speech.
Dobbins — a special education teacher with the Nevada Joint Union School District — said she signed her daughter up for Girl Scouts in April. At a troop get-together, Dobbins said, she sat down with the other mothers of the troop to tell them about her daughter’s disability.
“Nobody said anything, nobody said, ‘Well, we’re going to have to see how this goes’ kind of thing,” Dobbins said. “They just dropped the ball.”
Dobbins said at the troop’s first meeting, her daughter was a little anxious and acted out by jumping on top of a desk, but after taking her outside, she says, her daughter was fine. Over the course of around two months, Dobbins said her daughter went to three troop meetings.
“The third time, the only difference between her and the other girls is she was just being shy,” Dobbins said. “Otherwise, she sat in her seat the whole time like she was supposed to, she was slow to participate but that’s her disability.”
Dobbins said she realized something was wrong when she hosted a meeting in May, and none of the girls or mothers came.
She later found out that they canceled the meeting without telling her. Dobbins and her daughter were also left out of a sleepover at the troop leader’s house that all of the girls attended.
On May 27, the troop leader wrote Dobbins an email saying, “It doesn’t seem that your cute daughter likes Girl Scouts. I wish she did! But she isn’t engaging with the rest of girls.”
Dobbins wrote back stating that her daughter “actually loves it,” and had made progress and is making friends.
In June, Dobbins said she received no response to her email and inquired with the troop leader again.
The troop leader wrote back, stating, “I think (your daughter) would benefit from another troop,” adding that she may be too overwhelmed to participate.
In July through a Facebook correspondence, Dobbins wrote the troop leader saying her daughter’s civil rights were being violated. The troop leader said the troop enjoyed Dobbins and her daughter, but that she “just didn’t seem ready for Girl Scouts,” adding that they are not trying to discriminate.
The Alta Sierra Girl Scout troop leader declined several times when asked to comment.
“There was so little understanding and so much judgment,” Dobbins said. “It was just all kind of done behind closed doors, which is weird. Instead of talking to me and saying she’s going to have another chance, we got no closure. My daughter didn’t get to say goodbye to the girls, and all of a sudden the friends she made are gone.”
Dobbins said since her daughter stopped going to Girl Scouts, she has been moping around and talking about how she doesn’t have friends, also saying that she misses one of the girls from the troop whom she considered her best friend.
“It’s hard for me because she’s 10, and she’s very aware of things,” Dobbins said. “And so for her to continue and continue to ask me, ‘When are we going to Girl Scouts? Why didn’t we go to Girl Scouts today?’ for me to have to shuffle around, it is really difficult because I’ve never seen her try so hard for anything. Her self-esteem has been hurt, and her need and desire to connect with other girls has been crushed.”
Dobbins said she contacted a staff member at the Girl Scouts Heart of Central California, the local council that oversees more than 2,500 troops in Northern California, but said they did nothing.
“She said they should have been more open and receptive of her, and she said she was really disappointed to hear my story,” Dobbins said.
“She said she could offer them some education, but that doesn’t mean that they are going to change their minds.”
Girl Scouts Heart of Central California spokeswoman Alicia Allen said Thursday that all troop leaders are volunteers and that it’s not uncommon for troops not to be the greatest fit right away.
Allen said they have dedicated staff that try to find participants the right troop for them, sometimes moving girls from one troop to another, and that they reached out to Dobbins for support.
“As an organization, we uphold diversity,” Allen said.
“We’re all inclusive, we don’t discriminate or preclude on the basis of disability, race, religion or sexual orientation. Our goal is to ensure that every girl and volunteer has a great experience in the program.”
Elyce Dobbins’ husband Chris, though, says they are not interested in their daughter being a part of the Girl Scouts anymore.
“People need to know there’s not really any training for these moms that are doing the Girl Scouts,” Chris Dobbins said. “And they don’t know that they are discriminating, but they are.”
Ana Acton, Executive Director at FREED, an organization that aims to eliminate barriers for people with disabilities, said that a nonprofit like the Girl Scouts falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Basically they can’t deny them services based on the disability,” Acton said. “If there’s a normal program that’s put on by that particular nonprofit or organization, they have to make sure that people with disabilities can be integrated into that program.”
For Elyce Dobbins, the experience with the Girl Scout troop has tainted any desire she had to participate with the group.
“My daughter is very intelligent and capable of doing anything anyone else can do, but it takes her more time, and it’s not right for her or any other person, regardless of ability, to be kept from a group that could benefit them,” Dobbins said.
“I want to let other people know that this happens more frequently then they think, so if they’ve experienced anything like this, they’re not alone.”
For more information on disabled persons rights, call the National Network at 800-949-4232.
To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
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